Rightwing Tories plan ‘rebel manifesto’ if Sunak’s policy launch falls flat

<span>Rishi Sunak may be told by his party members to take tougher action on human rights law.</span><span>Photograph: Leon Neal/PA</span>
Rishi Sunak may be told by his party members to take tougher action on human rights law.Photograph: Leon Neal/PA

Conservative rightwingers are planning to present Rishi Sunak with demands for tougher action on immigration and human rights law before the election if the prime minister’s manifesto promises on Tuesday fall flat.

Prominent party figures including Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick are said by Tory insiders to be among those waiting to see how the manifesto is received by the public before they act.

In the event Sunak’s launch fails to shift the dial on the Tories’ floundering election campaign, one option under discussion is a press conference next week to set out a series of alternative pledges.

They are hoping to capitalise on an already weakened Sunak who vowed to fight on until the last day of the campaign after a terrible weekend in which he was criticised for missing part of the D-day commemorations.

On the campaign trail in West Sussex on Monday, the prime minister said he believed he could still win back voters and he did not accept that the election result was a foregone conclusion.

Asked if he had considered quitting, Sunak said “of course not” and said he was energised by the campaign, after ministers were forced to insist he would not be replaced as leader during the course of the campaign.

In the run-up to the publication of the Tory manifesto, MPs on the right of the party launched a last-ditch attempt to toughen up the position on the UK’s membership in the European convention of human rights.

Two sources from the New Conservatives grouping said they had pushed hard for it to commit to a referendum on ECHR membership or full withdrawal. “A lot of us will be making our position clear publicly,” one MP said.

Related: Politics Weekly Westminster: Manifesto week

One former cabinet minister said it was “plausible” that a rebel manifesto could be published in the days ahead, with tougher positions on tax and immigration. “We’ll just have to see what emerges,” they added.

However, the Guardian understands that Sunak is expected to pledge to reform the terms of Britain’s ECHR membership, and to “keep all options on the table” – including leaving – if this fails.

One Tory source said: “Sunak doesn’t want to leave. This is just language to appease the right. It’s signalling. There’s no way he wants a cabinet row over this in the middle of the campaign, and some of his ministers are firmly against.”

Sunak was reportedly facing last-minute calls by cabinet ministers to add new tax cuts and tougher migration policy to the manifesto after early drafts provoked disquiet over the lack of big ticket pledges.

Bloomberg reported that while there were no signals that their demands would be met in the final document, some alterations had been made in recent days as a result of the conversations.

Sunak is hoping to get back on the front foot with his manifesto launch, at which he is expected to pledge a further 2p cut on national insurance, taking the employee rate to 6p, which would be half the original rate.

The Tories will say the cuts will be funded through welfare reforms, although economists have questioned this. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has said finding the £12bn savings promised by 2030 through reforming welfare “looks difficult to the extreme”.

His plans are not, however, expected to include a cut to inheritance tax, which was a leading demand from his MPs. In an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson on Monday night, Sunak said: “We’re going to keep cutting people’s taxes. You’ll see that in our manifesto tomorrow.”

The prime minister said that day-to-day spending on public services under a future Tory government would continue to increase ahead of inflation. Asked if he would be honest that his plans also meant spending cuts for many government departments, he said: “No, that’s not what our plans show.” But he added: “Of course, all governments prioritise within that.”

The Tory manifesto is also expected to include a pledge to scrap stamp duty for first-time buyers of properties costing up to £425,000. In another attempt to boost home ownership, Sunak will pledge to launch a “new and improved” help to buy scheme, telling the Daily Telegraph the scheme would provide a loan of up to 20% of the cost of a newbuild home. The newspaper also reported plans to scrap capital gains tax for landlords who sell properties to their tenants.

Both the Tories and Labour have ruled out any increase to the rate of income tax, NI or VAT. However, they have said income tax thresholds will remain frozen until 2028, pulling millions more people into a higher tax band.

The manoeuvring by some on the Tory right, as they position themselves in anticipation of the battle for the future direction of the party in the event of election defeat, is likely to further undermine the prime minister and give succour to Reform UK and Labour, who say the Conservatives are weak and divided.

In a recording leaked to the Guardian, the Tory rightwinger Andrew Rosindell told a private audience that Braverman’s push to leave the ECHR was “right”, warning: “You can’t go in with a bland, wishy-washy manifesto; the Conservatives have to stand for something and believe in things.”

At the champagne fundraiser in Mayfair in February the Tory, standing alongside Braverman, said that “we need to give the British people answers” before thanking her for “fighting very hard to ensure that our party is firmly back on the right track”.

Miriam Cates, a co-chair of the New Conservatives, said immigration was a “number one” issue on the doorsteps. But she was unconvinced that a big commitment to withdrawing from the ECHR would have a “decisive impact” on the polls along the lines of David Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership.

“Everybody in Westminster talks about the ECHR but I’m not sure about the salience of it for people who don’t spend their lives reading political journals. It’s not as totemic as, for example, leaving the EU.”

Braverman has been approached for comment. A spokesperson for Jenrick declined to comment. A spokesperson for the New Conservatives said: “We have no plans to publish any so-called ‘rebel manifesto’.”