The Conservatives are in “last chance saloon” as Rishi Sunak takes the helm, Theresa May’s former chief of staff has said. Tory peer Lord Barwell said that the “only answer” is a general election if the party does not get behind its new leader and PM.
But he suggested the Prime Minister had made a promising start by “avoiding the mistake” made by his predecessors Liz Truss and Boris Johnson of filling his top team with close allies and not reaching out across the party.
The former Downing Street chief of staff told LBC: “I think if you look at the big picture here he’s avoided the mistake that Boris Johnson and Liz Truss made of just appointing your mates to the Cabinet.
“He has got a broad range of people from across the party in the Cabinet and that is the best hope I think of getting them to unite.
“They are in the last chance saloon. If they don’t make it work this time the only answer is to have a general election and hopefully that will help them.”
Asked why the Tories are so divided, Lord Barwell pointed to Brexit and Mr Johnson’s ousting.
He said: “I think it’s had an incredibly difficult six years.
“Brexit was a major divide for the party and then the removal of Boris Johnson whatever view you take, whether that was the right decision or the wrong one has clearly left real wounds as well in the same way that the removal of Margaret Thatcher did back in 1990.
“So there’s a lot of personal animosity and bad blood there.
“His job is to heal that and get them working together in the way that the country has a right to expect.”
However, Lord Barwell said he disagreed with Suella Braverman – the darling of the Tory right – returning as Home Secretary less than a week after her exit from the same role over a breach of the ministerial code.
Asked if her reappointment undermines Mr Sunak’s claim to be a Prime Minister of integrity, Lord Barwell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I can entirely understand why he wanted to include her.
“She’s clearly the sort of champion of the European Research Group [ERG] group of MPs, but I think given the events behind her very recent dismissal, personally I wouldn’t have put her back in quite a senior job.
“So, looking at the day as a whole yesterday, and I think it was a pretty good start, the speech I think struck the right tone, that appointment of Suella is probably the one sort of contentious note.”