Holding another leadership contest to change prime minister would be “insanity”, the Conservative Party chairman has said amid tensions over Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan and with critics jostling for position.

Richard Holden echoed Mr Sunak’s calls for unity, and suggested it was the “biggest challenge” his party was facing when looking to secure another election victory.

Speaking to reporters at a press gallery lunch in Parliament, and asked if he could rule out another leadership contest before the next election, Mr Holden said: “I think it would be insanity to do that.”

Questions remain over the extent to which Mr Sunak can rely on the support of his backbenchers when it comes to getting the latest efforts to send asylum seekers to Rwanda through the Commons next week.

Public criticism from former home secretary Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick, who resigned from his role as immigration minister on Wednesday, have seen Tory divisions over the issue spill out into the open and led to speculation over whether some in the party would like to see a change in leadership.

Mr Sunak reportedly told Conservative backbenchers at the 1922 Committee shortly before Mr Jenrick quit that they must “unite or die” – and Mr Holden echoed the need for unity.

Mr Holden said on Thursday: “The only way to victory is if we get out there and fight for it, fight for people’s votes and show them we’re on their side. I think if we’re introspective – we all know that divided parties don’t win elections.”

He said his party needed to be “fighting the opposition rather than ourselves” and argued that his colleagues had ample reason to focus criticism on the Labour Party over various issues.

Suella Braverman
Public criticism from former home secretary Suella Braverman over Mr Sunak’s Rwanda plan has seen Tory divisions over the issue spill out into the open (Justin Tallis/PA)

“Yet some of my colleagues seem to be more interested in talking about ourselves when we’re actually putting forward some of the strongest polling policies we could possibly be doing,” he said.

“I don’t want to see us in opposition”, he said, adding that he believed his party had a “good story to tell”.

The latest possible date for the next general election to be held is January 28 2025, but many commentators expect it sometime in 2024.

Mr Holden told reporters he did not know when the election would be, but asked when the earliest CCHQ would be ready to fight one, he said “February”.

He conceded his party is facing an “uphill battle” going into the next general election, but said he was confident his party could win.

Asked about the biggest challenge his party faces, he said: “The biggest challenge we face is the fact that… it’s actually a challenge for all of my colleagues really… it’s to decide whether they’re interested in being in government and continuing to make those massive changes that we’ve made over the last few decades… or whether they would prefer to sit in opposition.”

He said “any sensible Conservative MP” should “reflect on where we are”, warning against putting Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in power.

And he said he was working hard in his role for Tory colleagues, adding: “I hope that they understand that actually the enemy is not within, the enemy is out there.”