Rishi Sunak is facing a barrage of criticism from within his own party, as Tory ranks expressed anger at the local election results and the decision to scale back post-Brexit plans to scrap EU laws.
As some MPs appealed for unity and cautioned against division, others gathered in Bournemouth for the first conference of the Conservative Democratic Organisation where Mr Sunak and the party leadership were the subject of stinging criticism.
Former home secretary Priti Patel was among those who joined in the criticism at the event, organised by some of the most vocal backers of Boris Johnson.
“It matters to us at the party grassroots but it also is important to reflect that colleagues in Westminster, by making the changes that took place last year, have also… turned their back on the membership and effectively broken that golden thread in terms of the democracy from the bottom of the party right up to the top.
“And we have to rebuild that,” Ms Patel warned the Prime Minister.
“If the centre of the party spent more time with us, listening, engaging, then I think it’s fair to say we would not have seen over 1,000 of our friends and colleagues even lose their seats in recent local elections and dozens of councils fall out of Conservative control.”
The Government had originally promised a “sunset” clause on all laws carried over from the trade bloc by the end of 2023 under its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.
That anger showed little sign of dissipating on Sunday, as MPs hit out at Mr Sunak.
Writing in the Telegraph, Brexiteer Sir William Cash called on the Government to change course.
“The unelected Lords should not be used to radically change legislation already passed with a big majority in the elected House of Commons.
“Nor should the Commons’ own specialist committee be bypassed in this arrogant way,” he warned Mr Sunak and Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch.
Mr Sunak used an interview in The Mail On Sunday to stress his Brexit credentials, saying: “I voted for Brexit, I campaigned for Brexit, I believe in Brexit and when I was chancellor I started to deliver some benefits of Brexit.”
Others in the party appealed for unity.
Conservative chairman of the Defence Committee Tobias Ellwood criticised party colleagues for stoking divisions and warned that a “drag anchor of a right-wing caucus is in our ranks, and it has already written off any prospects of victory in 2024”.
Elsewhere, after a speech in central London, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took the chance to take aim at Mr Sunak over the splits within the Conservatives.
“I have always said that among Sunak’s weaknesses is that he didn’t actually win a race to be leader of his party. The problem that gives him is that he doesn’t have a mandate for change,” he told an audience of supporters.
“The Tory party has been a divided party for a very long time.”