Nadine Dorries, the former cabinet minister who claims she has fallen victim to “sinister forces” in Downing Street, is making her party leader and prime minister Rishi Sunak sweat by delaying her formal resignation as an MP.
Dorries, who claims Sunak and his Number 10 allies blocked her elevation to the House of Lords, declared last Friday she would be standing down as MP for Mid Bedfordshire with immediate effect.
That left Sunak facing three highly problematic by-elections for Conservative-held seats after Boris Johnson, former prime minister, and Nigel Adams, a Johnson ally, also announced they were quitting.
Sunak hoped to limit the political damage by holding all three contests on the same day next month — probably July 13 — with Tory strategists fearing the party could lose all of them.
But last night Dorries had yet to formally resign, telling colleagues she would do so at a moment of her choosing, possibly delaying a by-election. “She might want to mess up Rishi’s holidays,” said one Tory MP.
Sunak will move the writ on Wednesday for by-elections in Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat and Adams’s Selby seat, where Labour hopes to overturn Tory majorities of 7,210 and 20,137, respectively.
But asked why Dorries had not resigned, one Tory official said: “I’ve no idea what Nadine thinks. She said last Friday she was resigning with immediate effect. You’ll have to ask her what she’s doing.”
Friends of Dorries say she might want to hold on to make a valedictory statement in the House of Commons, a moment that is likely to make for gripping political viewing.
On Tuesday, she wrote in the Daily Mail that “sinister forces conspired against me” and had blocked Johnson’s proposal that she should become a peer in the ex-prime minister’s resignation honours list.
Sunak denies interfering in the process, but Dorries blames the prime minister and his political secretary James Forsyth — who both attended the elite Winchester College — for blocking her elevation.
“I have never been under any illusion that breaking through the class ceiling would be a battle,” she said.
Rosie Cooper, a former Labour MP who quit parliament to chair an NHS trust last year, let two months elapse between announcing her plan to step down as an MP and actually resigning.
While Dorries’ friends do not expect her to wait anything like two months, any delay in formally tendering her resignation will mean that Sunak will have to endure two separate rounds of by-election torment.
If Dorries delays her departure by a matter of weeks, it could push a by-election in Mid Beds — a target for the Liberal Democrats — into the summer or even the start of the new political season in the autumn.
Tory strategists are gloomy about their prospects in the three by-elections, with Selby in Yorkshire deemed to be the only one that Sunak might be able to save.
“I think we’ll lose all three,” said one senior Tory official. “These people who are resigning don’t have the interests of the party at heart. They are sticking knives into Rishi’s back.”