Boris Johnson will be concerned with keeping the support of his MPs in order to preserve his place in No 10 as the Tories head into a potentially difficult set of local elections, a Cabinet minister said.
The Prime Minister faces a cost-of-living crisis, the fallout from his fine over a lockdown-busting birthday party in No 10 and scandals involving Tory MPs as voters head to the ballot boxes on Thursday.
Environment Secretary George Eustice acknowledged that “all prime ministers will always be very conscious of the mood in their parliamentary party” in response to speculation that poor results on Thursday could lead to more letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister.
Under Conservative Party rules, there must be a vote on the Prime Minister’s future if 54 MPs write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady saying they have lost confidence in their leader.
So far only a handful of MPs have publicly confirmed sending a letter, with many critics of the Prime Minister holding back due to the war in Ukraine, although results of the elections and any further developments in the partygate saga could change that position.
Mr Eustice told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “All prime ministers will always be very conscious of the mood in their parliamentary party because no government can get anything done unless it enjoys the support of the parliamentary party as a whole.
“So of course the Prime Minister will be thinking about these things. But for now, he’s also making sure that we deal with some of the international challenges like the problems in Ukraine, that we give them the support they need, that we help steer our economy through this period where we’re getting some inflationary pressures.
“And up and down the country we’ve got councillors fighting elections on local issues, things like planning, things like local council tax, and we’re doing our part and the Prime Minister is playing his part to support our councillors in those campaigns for tomorrow’s elections.”
The party leaders were visiting key electoral battlegrounds on the last day of campaigning before voters go to the polls.
Mr Johnson is expected to visit Hampshire while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will be in Wakefield and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey is due to visit areas across the South East.
Writing in the Express, the Prime Minister said: “I know that families across the country are feeling the pinch as the cost of living rises.
“That’s why we’re focused on growing the economy to address the cost of living, and it’s why keeping bills down and cutting council waste is more important than ever.”
Labour leader Sir Keir again denied Tory claims his party had struck a secret pact with the Liberal Democrats to maximise Conservative pain on Thursday.
Sir Keir told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Firstly, I’m afraid I don’t take what (Tory chairman) Oliver Dowden says very seriously these days, but the fact that a few days before the local elections the only thing he wants to talk about is a Lib Dem/Labour pact rather than the issue which is the cost of living tells you everything about a Government that’s absolutely out of ideas and is completely out of touch.”
In other developments:
– Mr Eustice suggested on Sky News that shoppers should choose “value brands” to “contain and manage their household budget”.
– Sir Keir said he had not been contacted by Durham Police over an April 2021 gathering which the Tories have called for officers to investigate over claims it breached coronavirus laws.
– Lib Dem leader Sir Ed said the elections could “send a shockwave from communities around the country to the heart of the Conservative Party”.
Meanwhile, party leaders in Scotland will campaign in Edinburgh as they seek to make their case to voters, while tensions are also high in Northern Ireland ahead of the Stormont Assembly elections as the Brexit protocol remains a divisive issue.
Mr Eustice was asked what the UK Government’s response would be to a Sinn Fein majority in the assembly and the possibility of a border poll on unification with Ireland.
He told Sky: “Well, we will deal with whatever we’re faced with after we have the results on Thursday.”
Mr Eustice added: “Whether or not to have a referendum is always a matter for the UK Government, always has been.”
The Liberal Democrats are targeting the “squeezed middle” in visits across the “blue wall” of Tory seats in London and the South East on Wednesday, including Elmbridge in Surrey, which covers Justice Secretary Dominic Raab’s constituency of Esher and Walton.
Nicola Sturgeon said backing the SNP on Thursday would “put Boris Johnson under real pressure to act now and help families out”.
She said the Conservatives have “run out of excuses for their negligent inaction on their self-made cost-of-living crisis that is hammering families across Scotland”.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP will always be too distracted by their nationalist interests to focus on what your local community needs.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “At this election you can choose more division and decline with the SNP and the Tories – or you can demand more action with Labour.”