Rishi Sunak ‘fighting the wrong campaign’ as he puts his hopes in Boris Johnson

Rishi Sunak was warned he is “fighting the wrong campaign” as he has placed his hopes on an intervention by Boris Johnson to try to stave off an election meltdown.

The prime minister today took a trip to southwest England in a bid to rescue seats from a pincer movement by Nigel Farage’s Reform UK on the right and Labour and the Liberal Democrats on the left.

But as Mr Sunak was openly mocked by his rivals amid images of him speaking on hay bales and sheep running away when he tried to feed them, former chancellor George Osborne, who ran the winning election campaigns in 2010 and 2015, heaped criticism on the beleaguered prime minister.

Sunak campaigning in the South West (Getty Images)
Sunak campaigning in the South West (Getty Images)

As the sheep fled in front of him, Mr Sunak tried to joke: “I think they thought we were shearers.”

But Mr Osborne warned Mr Sunak should spend more time defending “blue wall” Tory seats in the south of England where “Labour is being allowed to run riot”.

“Sunak is being pulled into fighting, in my view, the wrong campaign which is trying to stop Reform coming second whereas he should still be trying to focus on limiting the damage of Labour coming first or limiting the loss for the Conservatives,” Mr Osborne said on his Political Currency podcast.

“That means he should be trying to defend his blue wall seats which is where Labour are now running riot rather than focusing on the red wall seats that Boris Johnson won five years ago when, by the way, the Labour candidate was Jeremy Corbyn so it was a completely different election from having Sir Keir Starmer.”

In a bad day for Mr Sunak, two more polls delivered further bad news with Savanta finding that only one in five voters (21 per cent) believe his promises on reducing immigration, with 27 per cent thinking Labour were more likely to stop the boats.

The claims that the Tories are “lying” on immigration has been a key line of attack by Nigel Farage who has pointed out that this will be the fifth manifesto in a row where the Conservatives have promised to reduce net migration, having failed on the previous four occasions.

A flock of sheep flee as Rishi Sunak and David Cameron try to feed them (Ben Birchall/PA)
A flock of sheep flee as Rishi Sunak and David Cameron try to feed them (Ben Birchall/PA)

Meanwhile, Ipsos Mori’s poll suggests that Mr Farage will be elected as the MP for Clacton, in further bad news for the Tories.

Mr Johnson has put out a series of video clips in support of individual Tory candidates who were loyal to him as MPs before he was deposed.

The former prime minister, who was disgraced over lockdown rule-breaking and misleading parliament, has refused so far to endorse Mr Sunak directly or appear personally on the campaign trail to help the man who many saw as being a leader in the plot to remove him from No 10.

A letter from Mr Johnson to voters is set to go out but sources close to the former prime minister refused to say if it mentioned Mr Sunak’s name.

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “Rishi Sunak being airbrushed out of his own campaign by Boris Johnson is a new low.

"It's not like Johnson doesn't know who the prime minister is: he promoted him, was fined for partying with him and then was ultimately replaced by him.

"Frankly, most people are just sick of this endless Conservative psychodrama. In many parts of the country, the best way to end this Conservatives chaos is to vote for the Liberal Democrats on 4 July."

But Mr Sunak told journalists he thinks the interventions will help.

He said it was “great” that Mr Johnson – who is on holiday in Italy – would be endorsing Tory candidates in a series of videos and letters to voters in the coming days, in an intervention Mr Sunak said was “coordinated by the campaign”.

The prime minister denied he had given up on winning the election as he continued the Conservative campaign in seats with large Tory majorities on Tuesday.

Asked during a visit to a farm in North Devon, where Selaine Saxby is defending a majority of almost 15,000, whether he had given up on victory, the prime minister said: “Whenever someone asks me a question like that I say the same thing, which is: I don't take a single vote for granted and I'm going to be in every single part of our country talking to people about the choice at this election.”