Exclusive: 46% of voters oppose Sunak becoming PM after Covid fine, poll finds

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Almost half of UK adults oppose Rishi Sunak becoming Prime Minister because he received a fixed-penalty notice in relation to the ‘partygate’ scandal, exclusive polling by Savanta ComRes for LabourList reveals.

Sunak and Liz Truss were selected as the final two candidates to replace Boris Johnson in a last ballot of Conservative MPs on Wednesday afternoon. The former Chancellor received the most votes with 137, while the Foreign Secretary was backed by 113 MPs. Penny Mordaunt was eliminated with 105 votes.

A Savanta ComRes poll for LabourList, however, found that 46% of voters felt the frontrunner “should not be able to become Prime Minister as he received a fixed-penalty notice for breaking Covid rules”. 37% felt he should be able to do so.

39% of respondents who voted Conservative in 2019 did not believe Sunak should be able to succeed Boris Johnson after the pair were fined for breaking lockdown rules. 65% of people who voted for The Brexit Party at that election were also opposed.

The research found considerable opposition to Sunak becoming Tory leader among both Leave and Remain voters. 47% of Leave voters surveyed said they were against him being selected given the fact he had received a fine. Exactly half of those who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum shared that opinion.

The poll by Savanta ComRes for LabourList also found that 53% of voters believe that an interim Prime Minister should take over from Johnson until a permanent successor is selected, including 37% of respondents who voted Tory in 2019.

The next stage of the leadership contest will see the two remaining candidates put to a ballot of the Conservative Party membership after a series of hustings around the country. The BBC will broadcast a debate on Monday.

The first hustings with Conservative members will reportedly take place on Thursday in the North of England, with two such events expected to take place each week throughout the rest of the campaign.

Sunak has come top in every round of voting by Tory MPs. But polling of Tory members by YouGov published on Tuesday found that he would be beaten by Truss by 54% to 35%.

It was announced in April that Sunak was among those issued with fines as a result of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) investigation into illegal social gatherings held in Downing Street and Whitehall during the pandemic.

The former Chancellor was fined along with Johnson and his wife Carrie for attending a birthday gathering for the Prime Minister in No 10.

In a statement at the time, Sunak said: “I understand that for figures in public office, the rules must be applied stringently in order to maintain public confidence. I respect the decision that has been made and have paid the fine.”

Reacting to the announcement of the fines, Labour leader Keir Starmer said: “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public. They must both resign. The Conservatives are totally unfit to govern.”

Below are the results of the latest polling by Savanta ComRes for LabourList.

Which of the following statements is closest to your view?

Rishi Sunak should not be able to become Prime Minister as he received a fixed-penalty notice for breaking Covid rules during ‘partygate’ – 46%

Rishi Sunak should still be able to become Prime Minister despite receiving a fixed-penalty notice for breaking Covid rules during ‘partygate’ – 37%

Don’t know – 17%

While the Conservative Party choose a new leader, which of the following do you think should happen?

Boris Johnson should remain as Prime Minister until a permanent successor is elected – 35%

There should be a different interim Prime Minister until a permanent successor is elected – 53%

Don’t know – 12%

Polling by Savanta: ComRes for LabourList. Fieldwork conducted 15th-17th July 2022. Savanta: ComRes interviewed 1,980 UK adults aged 18+ online.

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