Tory leadership hopefuls issue warnings to Reform voters and pleas for lower tax

A Tory former minister has insisted the party is the “natural home for Reform voters”, as leadership hopefuls jostled for position ahead of the General Election.

Robert Jenrick also said former prime minister Boris Johnson “must always have a place” in the Tories, including in Parliament, should he wish to have one.

Mr Jenrick, who last served in the Government as immigration minister, later denied he was firing the first shot in the race to replace Rishi Sunak should the Prime Minister lead the Tories to defeat on July 4.

Robert Jenrick walking to the BBC studios
Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick said former prime minister Boris Johnson ‘must always have a place’ in the Tories (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Elsewhere, Home Secretary James Cleverly said he was focused on “getting myself and colleagues re-elected” as he failed to rule out a tilt at the top job should it become available.

Tory former home secretary Dame Priti Patel also pressed the case for lower taxes in a rallying cry to voters in The Sunday Telegraph.

Labour’s poll lead over the Tories remains around 20 points.

Some pollsters have suggested Labour could be on course for a thumping majority that puts at risk Conservative seats previously considered safe.

Mr Jenrick, the Conservative candidate for Newark who held the seat in 2019 with a 21,816 majority, said the Government “took its time” but is “now turning a corner” in its efforts to reduce net migration.

Turning to the leader of Reform UK, Mr Jenrick wrote in The Mail On Sunday: “While I vehemently disagree with Nigel Farage that the West provoked Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, I have a lot of respect for him.

“He speaks for the concerns of millions of people, but he isn’t asking to lead the country.

“Instead, he wants to be the official opposition. And yet he knows he can’t do that either as he’ll have only a handful of MPs at best.

“The Conservative family has always been, and must continue to be, a natural home for Reform voters who share our concerns.

“We have to build a coalition of voters and propose policies which will fix people’s problems – be that on migration, public services reform, the cost of living, or housing.”

Mr Jenrick claimed a vote for Reform or Labour “risks a one-party state”, adding: “It’s why we need the best talents of the Conservative Party working together, and why I know Boris Johnson has been supporting Tory colleagues ahead of polling day.

“He will always have a special place in our party and country’s history as the leader who got Brexit done.

“He is also, of course, a one-of-a-kind campaigner, and must always have a place in the Conservative Party, including in Parliament, if he ever wishes to have one.”

Mr Jenrick, appearing on Sky News’ Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips, was told his article read like the first shot in the race to become the next Conservative Party leader.

He replied: “Well, no Trevor.

“I’m here today because I care passionately about the Conservative Party and I want it to get the best possible result at the General Election and I’ve been spending weeks knocking on doors up in north Nottinghamshire and I share the values and the concerns of Reform voters.

“But I’m here to deliver a warning to them that if they vote for anyone other than a Conservative at this General Election they risk, because of our electoral system, a supermajority of the Labour Party.”

Appearing on the same programme, Mr Cleverly was asked if he was up for the challenge of being the next Tory leader.

He replied: “I’ve said my focus is on getting myself and my colleagues re-elected.”

Mr Cleverly said he wanted to ensure the party has enough MPs to form a Conservative majority, adding: “If that isn’t the case, then we will deal with the circumstances as we find that, we want to make sure that if we do have to hold the Labour Party to account, we’ll do so.

“But look, my instinct is that the leader of the opposition – and I know what you are hinting at – is not a job people should aspire to, being in government is a job people aspire to.”

Priti Patel speech
Former home secretary Priti Patel (Lucy North/PA)

Dame Priti, who is seeking re-election for Witham in Essex, pressed the case for lower taxes in a rallying cry to voters.

Writing for The Sunday Telegraph, Dame Priti said: “We are an unashamedly pro-business party that believes in promoting the low-tax environment that the nation’s entrepreneurs and wealth creators need to flourish and be successful.”

Dame Priti, who held the seat in 2019 with a 24,082 majority, added: “Conservatives want to give businesses and enterprises freedom to flourish and unleash the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit, which is why so many of us campaign vigorously for lower taxes and less red tape.”