Allies of Boris Johnson are attempting to damage Rishi Sunak with hostile briefings to undermine his candidacy as a potential successor to the Prime Minister, Tories have claimed.
Their aim is to make the Chancellor seem like an unattractive candidate to MPs, so they decide to stick with the current Prime Minister rather than triggering a leadership challenge, insiders said.
A No 10 source said it was “totally untrue” that Mr Johnson’s team was briefing against the Chancellor.
One MP from the 2019 intake told i: “They’re going after Sunak because he is the favourite, and it’s easier to get rid of the leader when there is an obvious successor.
“So if he gets damaged, MPs might think it’s easier just to stick with the current leader.”
Another MP said such an approach was “not unexpected” as Mr Johnson’s allies scramble to save his premiership following deep rancour over allegedly lockdown-breaching Downing Street parties and other mis-steps.
“If I was trying to support the Prime Minister by hook or by crook that’s definitely one area I’d go down, I’d try and undermine the successors.
“If colleagues think they’re going to support somebody who’s not going to get elected, they’re not going to run a campaign in the first place.”
A Tory source said some people around the PM were “very, very unhappy with Rishi”.
But they acknowledged that “it’s always the case” that those trying to protect an incumbent leader would try and undermine potential successors.
“Liz (Truss) will be next,” they said.
Mr Johnson has faced calls from within his own Cabinet to sack Mr Sunak as ministers believe the Chancellor was “on manouevres” for the leadership when he distanced himself from the PM’s false claims about Jimmy Savile.
On Monday, Mr Sunak was also accused of blocking the announcement of the Government’s NHS Covid backlog recovery plan – eventually announced today – although Treasury insiders insisted the health service was to blame for the postponement.
Separately, a mystery arose as it emerged that a Survation poll reported in the Sunday Times, saying the Conservatives would lose the next election with Mr Johnson as leader but win under Mr Sunak, did not in fact exist.
An ally of the Chancellor denied that he was responsible for the report and said hostile briefing against Mr Sunak had become “very tiring”.
Mr Sunak was meanwhile understood to be ignoring questions around any leadership battle and “getting on with the job”.