Rishi Sunak offers funding olive branch to North’s rebel Tory MPs
Chancellor pledge post-pandemic infrastructure investment following demands from angry backbenchers
Rishi Sunak has told northern Tory MPs that he is prepared to pump investment into the cash-strapped region, in a seeming bid to win over rebellious backbenchers.
Addressing the Northern Research Group (NRG) of Conservative MPs, Sunak ”appeared to throw his weight” behind their demands for ”a special package of financial support for northern businesses and funding for large-scale building projects”, The Times reports.
Sunak requested the meeting after the NRG sent a letter to Boris Johnson last month warning that their constituencies are being “left behind” by the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic despite his election pledge to “level up” northern towns.
During a “well-received address” to around 50 MPs via Zoom yesterday, Sunak “sought to position himself as their spokesman in government — in effect, an endorsement of their criticism of Mr Johnson”, the paper adds.
However, Sunak did not go so far as to wholeheartedly back the NRG complaints, adding that “they would soon face the question of how to pay for the pandemic”.
NRG leader Jake Berry - a former ally of Johnson - has “repeatedly insisted that the group is not intended as a challenge to the prime minister’s authority”, as The Times’ Red Box reporter Patrick Maguire noted yesterday.
Instead, says Maguire, the group’s emergence is “a mark of deep backbench unease over the government’s lockdown strategy”, with many NRG members opposed to any further extension of national restrictions.
The government easily won last Wednesday’s vote to impose new restrictions in England for 28 days, by a margin of 516 votes to 38, with Labour’s backing. The Tory rebels included former leader Iain Duncan Smith and 1922 Committee chair Graham Brady, both of whom are members of the NRG.