Knives are out at Giovanni’s as pasta plotters cook up ‘Advent calendar of s**t’ to topple Rishi
We reveal backstabbing at top Sicilian restaurant, as Boris and Team Farage watch from the wings...
By GLEN OWEN and ANNA MIKHAILOVA
OVER dishes of ravioli and sliced calves liver, washed down by bottles of southern Italian red, Rishi Sunak’s political enemies plotted their next moves against the Government. The venue was Giovanni’s, a long-established family Italian restaurant in London’s Covent Garden run by Sicilian aristocrat Count Pino Ragona and whose walls are bedecked with pictures of celebrity customers such as Frank Sinatra – and Liz Truss.
The conspirators, a determined cabal of MPs and political strategists, were busy turning a torrent of headlines damaging to the Prime Minister, previously described as a ‘grid of s**t’, into ‘an Advent calendar of s**t’.
The intention was to leave No 10 reeling from a series of blows in the wake of last month’s sacking of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary.
Her brutally personal parting-shot letter was followed last week by the resignation of Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick over Sunak’s plans to use emergency legislation to rescue his scheme to send Channel migrants to Rwanda, which he felt did not go far enough.
Downing Street will nervously open the latest Advent calendar window on Tuesday, when MPs are given the first chance
They’re planning to crash Sunak... but have no idea who’ll take over
to vote on the legislation. Party whips are spending this weekend frantically trying to quell a wider revolt.
The Prime Minister is also facing opposition from One Nation Tory moderates on the other flank, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green. They object to using legislation to override the Human Rights Act and overrule the Supreme Court’s verdict that Rwanda is not a safe place to send asylum-seekers.
Supporters of Mr Sunak are scathing about Mr Jenrick’s resignation, with one Home Office source saying: ‘He thinks he is the new darling of the Right, but it’s a Damascene conversion given that prior to joining the Home Office he thought the whole premise of the Rwanda scheme was wrong.’
And a Tory source says Ms Braverman and Mr Jenrick ‘fought like rats in a sack in the Home Office, constantly wrangling for the limelight and blaming each other when something went wrong’.
One of the Giovanni’s plotters is open about wanting to ‘crash’ Mr Sunak’s administration in order to install a new leader before the Election – but admits to having no idea how it will happen or who should take over.
They said: ‘Our polling is down to 20 per cent, which is wipeout territory. Even a five per cent bounce from a new leader would save a decent number of seats. [Sunak] can’t win on the legislation, because every wing of the party is p ***** off for one reason or another’.
Appropriately, one despairing Tory source likens the party’s predicament to the seminal closing scene of The Italian Job film, in which Michael Caine’s getaway bus is balanced precariously on the edge of a cliff with his gang at one end and their stolen gold at the other. ‘Hang on a minute, lads,’ says Caine as the credits are about to roll. ‘I’ve got a great idea’. Down
ing Street diehards – who prefer to plot their defence in fashionable private members’ clubs such as Soho House – insist that the PM had no alternative but to pursue the current course.
One official said: ‘If we water it down, the policy won’t work as a deterrent; if we make it any harder, the policy will collapse. The plan on the table is the only way to get flights off, it’s the only way to deliver on our commitment to stop the boats.’
In an attempt to defuse the mounting, multi-pronged pressure on Mr Sunak’s premiership, MPs will only vote on Tuesday on the principle of whether to tighten the law. They will not have the chance to debate and vote on potentially divisive amendments until the New Year. Ms Braverman denies scheming to bring down Mr Sunak, claiming that she hopes he will lead the party into the next Election.
But there is undoubtedly an ominous coalition of the Right massing against the PM, comprised of the New Conservatives surrounding Ms Braverman, co-chaired by Danny Kruger; the ultra-Brexiteers of the European Research Group (ERG) headed by Mark Francois; the Northern Research Group of ‘red wall’ MPs; and the No Turning Back group of neo-Thatcherites who were influential in Ms Truss’s short-lived administration.
Before the vote is held, the ERG’s Sir Bill Cash will chair a ‘star chamber’ which will give its verdict on the proposed Rwandan legislation.
Last week’s plotting moved up a gear in the hours after Home Secretary James Cleverly unveiled his Rwanda Bill in the Commons, with around three dozen rebel MPs – including Ms Braverman – drinking wine in West Dorset MP Chris Loder’s office. ‘The mood was jubilant after Rob Jenrick went,’ one rebel said. ‘All the talk was – what will our next chess move be?’
Although their immediate focus is on the drafting of amendments to toughen up the Rwanda Bill to ‘bounce’ the Prime Minister into a more hardline position, the schemers are also thinking well into next year.
Newly released accounts show that Mr Kruger has amassed a £100,000 war chest for his New Conservatives, compared to just £7,600 in the previous year. Sources say that sort of backing would give the group ‘heft’ ahead of the next leadership contest.
MPs allied with Ms Braverman are bitterly critical of the Prime Minister, with one claiming that he was ‘threatened by strong women like Suella’.
Another dubbed him ‘Rishi Gervais’ in honour of comedian Ricky Gervais, who created the character of David Brent. They say that like the hapless, ineffectual boss in the
The Prime Minister can’t win as every wing of the party is p ***** off for one reason or another
He’s been dubbed ‘Rishi Gervais’ as he’s like The Office’s David Brent
BBC’s The Office, the Prime Minister ‘goes around saying “I’ve got things to say if people will listen, but they won’t.”’
The whips are begging Conservative MPs to heed Mr Sunak’s call to ‘unite’ behind him ‘or die’, with Mr Cleverly’s right-hand man in Parliament, whip Gagan Mohindra, conspicuously lobbying for the Bill in the Commons last Thursday and Friday.
Meanwhile, Downing Street delayed other announcements, including long-awaited planning reforms and guidance for schools on transgender issues to focus on Rwanda before Parliament breaks for Christmas.
It comes as speculation continues to swirl over a spring Election. However one senior Tory MP claimed it was a deception operation to panic Labour into depleting its war chest – then calling an Election in November instead.
If Mr Sunak survives, most Tory strategists expect him to wait until November – allowing time for two tax-cutting Budgets – although there is nervousness over the impact of the number of households coming off cheap mortgage deals next year.
Watching, and waiting, are both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
If pushed to name a successor, the plotters grudgingly suggest Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who currently tops the Conservative Home league table charting the popularity of Cabinet Ministers among party members.
But only Boris is deemed to have the potential to arrest the opinion poll doom loop – and, critically, reverse the rise of Mr Farage’s Reform party, which is now rating into double figures.
Mr Johnson’s allies detect the hand of Dougie Smith – named earlier this year by former Cabinet Minister Nadine Dorries as the Tory fixer with the power to bring down leaders such as Mr Johnson – as being behind the moves against Mr Sunak. In this instance, Mr Johnson would stand to benefit.
dmg media (UK)