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Sunak meets with backbench Tories for first time since bruising election defeat


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Rishi Sunak has faced his first meeting with Conservative MPs following his party’s election defeat, as a dispute between two Tory leadership rivals descended into a public slanging match.

The former prime minister was accompanied by interim Conservative chairman Richard Fuller as he entered a parliamentary committee room full of his MPs for the first meeting of the 1922 committee following the General Election.

Mr Sunak was met with the sound of MPs banging on the tables in the room, the traditional welcome greeting Tory leaders receive from their backbench colleagues.

Shadow communities secretary Kemi Badenoch speaking at the Policy Exchange think tank in May (Peter Nicholls/PA)
Shadow communities secretary Kemi Badenoch speaking at the Policy Exchange think tank in May (Peter Nicholls/PA)

Ahead of the meeting, Tory former home secretary Suella Braverman and her fellow leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch traded blows on X, formerly Twitter, after Ms Badenoch reportedly accused her rival of having a “very public” nervous breakdown during a meeting of Tory frontbenchers.

The 1922 Committee of backbenchers meeting on Wednesday evening was expected to set out the rules and timeline of a leadership contest for Mr Sunak’s successor.

He announced last week that he would step down once the formal arrangements for choosing a new leader are in place.

Speaking after leaving the 1922 Committee meeting, Sir Bernard Jenkin said a date had not yet been set for a leadership contest to begin.

He described Mr Sunak’s tone during the gathering as “sorrowful, apologetic”.

Asked how long Mr Sunak would remain in post, the Harwich and North Essex MP said: “He will be staying on until he decides to trigger a leadership election, but he is not going immediately.”

He added: “You will certainly see him at the state opening. I have no indication beyond that. He is not rushing out of the door as some previous leaders have done.”

Tory grandee Sir Edward Leigh meanwhile told reporters he wanted a “strong right-wing candidate” to be the new leader of the Conservative Party.

Speaking after leaving the meeting, the Father of the House told reporters: “The Conservative Party will never recover unless it is a proper Conservative Party doing conservative things. The public are absolutely furious that we did not control mass immigration, legal and illegal.

“Until we wake up and become a proper Conservative Party that delivers proper controls on immigration and tax we will never recover. You can’t recover just by saying we are all united. You have to stand for something.”

Asked if anyone had told Mr Sunak this, Gainsborough MP Sir Edward said: “Nobody said it. But I am saying it.”

In Tuesday’s gathering of the shadow cabinet, Ms Badenoch reportedly called Mr Sunak’s decision to leave D-Day commemorations early “disastrous” and said colleagues including Penny Mordaunt would have kept their seats if he had stayed longer in France.

The Conservative Party will never recover unless it is a proper Conservative Party doing conservative things
Sir Edward Leigh

On Wednesday she said it was a “shame” discussions from the meeting had been leaked, but renewed her attack on the previous Tory government by saying there was “too much nodding along in the room”.

And she did not deny making the nervous breakdown remark about Ms Braverman.

Former home secretary Ms Braverman then took to X to say: “I’d be interested in knowing whether Kemi thinks I’m having a ‘very public nervous breakdown’.”

The row came after shadow home secretary James Cleverly called for the party to unite as he warned against “bitter infighting”.

Other possible candidates for the party leadership include Mr Cleverly; Dame Priti Patel, who served as home secretary between July 2019 and September 2022; Robert Jenrick, who previously served as immigration minister; and ex-health secretary Victoria Atkins.

Right-wingers and more moderate Tories are expected to battle it out for the top job in a contest that could shape the party for years to come.

Shadow chancellor Jeremy Hunt, a centrist figure in the party, has ruled out running.

The 1922 Committee on Tuesday elected Bob Blackman as its new chair, but not without Tory MP Mark Francois complaining the vote was “bent” after he attempted to vote but was turned away.

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