Penny Mordaunt discusses increasing trade with Commonwealth
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The Prime Minister, who has just had a minor operation, is due to fly out to Rwanda for the major conference tomorrow which means he will be out of the country when the two by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton take place on Thursday. But his decision last Friday to snub the Northern Research Group conference in Doncaster and make a second trip to Kyiv instead has turned many Northern MPs in key Red Wall seats against him.
One Conservative MP likened the situation to Margaret Thatcher travelling to Paris to celebrate the end of the Cold War in 1990 in the middle of the leadership challenge from Michael Heseltine only to discover she was set to be forced out.
The MP said: “It’s always domestic first. The fact is we are expecting bad results on Thursday which will trigger a new push to get him [Boris] out.”
The MP went on: “Remember Thatcher and Paris in 1990, when she came back it was to be told she was finished? The parallels are there.”
Another likened it to a tsunami. The MP said: “After the vote of confidence earlier we are basically in that point of calm where the sea goes right out before the tsunami comes rushing in.”
While another added: “This is Boris’s Game of Thrones. Winter is coming for him.”
But what seems to have really stuck is the Prime Minister snubbing the NRG conference in Doncaster, a seat only narrowly held by Ed Miliband in 2019.
One member of the NRG said: “He [the Prime Minister] missed the chance to come and talk to 35 of his MPs and many others, raise morale, discuss ideas and show that he really means what he says about levelling up.
“Instead he showed that he does not really care.”
Mr Johnson was also described as being “duplicitous” and “pretending to come” until the last minute.
An MP added: “We were being assured that he was coming the night before despite some reports he had changed his mind.
“We were even getting texts in the morning to say he was on the train coming up, which obviously was yet another lie.
“We know that obviously security was important but to go to those lengths was a bit much.”
Meanwhile, NRG chairman Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, is even being talked about as a potential leadership challenger.
One MP said: “The conference was really good, there were some good discussions and ideas and Jake showed real leadership.”
Another senior Conservative source said: “Jake may not have the highest profile name but he is the sort of Conservative who has conservative low tax values but also understands the needs of the poor.”
Another noted that a more established leadership rival Tom Tugendhat “gave us his time and was greatly appreciated.”
Mr Berry let friends know that he backed the Prime Minister in the last vote of confidence when 148 Tory MPs, 41 percent of the Parliamentary party, voted against Mr Johnson.
However, one source close to him said: “Jake and the Northern MPs are furious only about five Boris loyalists back the Prime Minister now from that group.
“There are about 50 supportive MPs behind Jake on this.”
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