Leading rivals Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss hold regular meetings with lawmakers but refuse to challenge Johnson

Rishi Sunak met with more than 100 MPs this week Liz Truss is understood to be having dinner with other Conservative MPs this weekend as speculation over Boris Johnson’s leadership continues to rise and backers are openly discussing who should replace him as prime minister.

The cabinet ministers deny that they are on maneuvers and insist that they engage with MPs as part of their normal duties. But a growing number of senior conservatives believe that even if Mr Johnson survives the fallout from the “partygate”, there is a serious risk that he will be forced out if the forthcoming election goes badly.

The chancellor has met with more than 100 Tory backers this week to discuss how to mitigate the cost of living costs in light of rising inflation and energy bills.

A source close to Mr Sunak said the standard of living was the only topic discussed at the meetings. However, ministerial colleagues have accused him of being lukewarm in his support for the prime minister – one briefed a newspaper that he was a “flashy pony” who was “pretty obvious” about his management ambitions.

In a tweet Wednesday night, the chancellor called for “patience” ahead of the inquiry into the parties, which will be presented by senior mandarin Sue Gray.

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An ally insisted his comments were “in line with other ministers” and that his trip to Devon, which meant he missed the prime minister’s question, was planned for at least three months.

Mrs Truss is believed to be attending a dinner with other Conservative MPs this weekend, though a source said it was not a formal engagement.

The source added: “It is normal for cabinet ministers to meet MPs. She regularly meets MPs to talk about foreign policy.”

The Secretary of State has been holding “Fizz with Liz” events at Private Member Club 5 Hertford Street in recent months.

On Friday, she promised loyalty to Johnson and said: “The Prime Minister apologized on Wednesday, he was very aware that mistakes have been made.

“But I think we need to look at the overall position we are in as a country, the fact that he has delivered Brexit, that we are recovering from Covid, we have got one of the fastest growing economies now in the G7 and we are delivering the booster campaign.

“He has apologized. I think we now need to move on and talk about how to solve the problems.”

Michael Gove, who twice challenged Mr Johnson to the party leadership, said: “I can fully understand that people are going to feel annoyed, angry and upset. I think people owe the truth.” He said the public deserved “a proper and complete account of what happened and then an appropriate recognition of what needs to be changed”.

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