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Sunak will lead us into next election, minister says as pressure mounts on PM

Rishi Sunak will lead the Conservative Party into the next general election, Transport Secretary Mark Harper has said.

Speaking on Sky News’s Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips Mr Harper said the “plan is working” and that he would be “supporting [Sunak] all the way through” despite rising pressure on the Prime Minister amid donor, Frank Hester’s comments.

Reports have emerged that right-wing Tory MPs are moving towards Penny Mordaunt, the current Leader of the House of Commons, as an alternative to Mr Sunak as the the polls continue to show a sizeable Labour lead.

But Mr Harper insisted Mr Sunak “will take us into that election”, and “will set out very clearly that we are a Government with a plan”.

“The plan is working – we are driving down inflation, we are reducing people’s taxes, we are going to have the answers for the challenges facing the country in the future,” he added.

Mr Harper added that the Conservative Party is the “only party” that has a plan to deal with the UK’s priorities.

“[Mr Sunak will] take us into the election, he’ll set out the choice. And I’m confident that when he sets out the choice between our party with a plan, and the Labour Party without a plan, that we’ll get that support from the public,” Mr Harper said.

Reports from the weekend suggested that right-wing Tory MPs met with moderates this week to discuss uniting behind Ms Mordaunt if the Prime Minister faces a no-confidence vote.

Ms Mordaunt, a former candidate for the leadership position after Boris Johnson stepped down in 2022, has not commented on the claims.

But a source close to her rejected claims of an organised attempt to elevate her to the Tory leadership as “nonsense”, with other prominent right-wing MPs including Dame Andrea Jenkyns and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg also denouncing the rumours.

“I’m confident that my colleagues will [too],” he added.

Asked for his message to mutinous Tory MPs, Mr Harper said: “What I would say to all of my colleagues is this: I spend my time as Transport Secretary focusing on doing what I think is the right thing for the country, making decisions that I think are sensible.

“That is the approach that the Prime Minister takes as well. He focuses on making the right decisions.”

Amid the rumours of a potential leadership challenge to Mr Sunak, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader and long-term MP told GB News that he “would love to Boris come back and campaign”.

This comes at the end of a difficult week for Mr Sunak, after he came under fire over his handling of racist comments allegedly made by a major party donor, and after Lee Anderson – the former Tory deputy chairman – defected to the right-wing populist Reform UK party.

Mr Sunak came under fire on Monday after he initially refused to call Hester racist, following a report the businessman said looking at Diane Abbott makes you want to “hate all Black women” and that the MP “should be shot”.

Frank Hester, the owner of software company the Phoenix Partnership, was responsible for at least a fifth of donations to the Tories last year.

Mr Sunak initially said the comments were “unacceptable”, and refused to call them racist but then condemned the remarks as racist on Tuesday, following pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, and MPs including Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and health minister Maria Caulfield.

Mr Hester said earlier this week he was “deeply sorry” for the remarks, but insisted they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of her skin”.

Mr Harper was also questioned over allegations that Mr Hester had donated a further £5m to the Tories, on top of the £10m already reported, which has not yet been declared.

But Mr Harper said he is “not involved in donations” to the political party, or the process to declare them.

“Any donations that we received from anybody are declared in the usual way and that’s why you know Mr Hester made those donations in the past,” he added.

“If in the future there are any donations, and you’re asking me to speculate on hypotheticals here, there’s a proper process to go through and those donations will be declared in the proper way.”

Mr Sunak has refused to return Mr Hester’s donations to him in the wake of the scandal.

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