TORY plotters seeking to oust Rishi Sunak should “stop messing around” and end the Westminster psychodrama”, Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch has said.

The Business Secretary spoke out after widespread speculation about Tory MPs considering replacing the Prime Minister with Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt in an attempt to avoid a general election disaster.

Sunak insisted “the economy is turning a corner” and urged mutinous Tory MPs to “stick to the plan” as he sought to shore up his position.

Badenoch, who is viewed as a future leadership contender, said she and the Prime Minister “work well together” as she sought to play down the rumours about Sunak’s position.

The National: Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch told the Covid inquiry that the Government ‘had not got a handle on’ dealing with misinformation (Henry Nicholls/PA)

She suggested that “one or two MPs” were behind the Westminster rumours and they should not be allowed to “dominate the news narrative”.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I’m sure if Penny was here, she would be distancing herself from those comments.”

Mordaunt has not publicly commented on claims about an effort to elevate her to the Tory leadership, but a source close to her rejected them as “nonsense”.

On LBC Radio Badenoch said: “People need to stop messing around and get behind the Prime Minister.

“But I think at this particular time, it is really important that we remember that there are thousands of councillors all around the country who are going to be standing for election in May.

“We need people to focus on what they have been doing to help their local communities and not be obsessed with Westminster psychodrama.”

Badenoch, who ran for the Tory leadership in 2022, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I have made it very clear that Rishi Sunak is the person who is going to lead the country into the election.

“I support him fully.

“I have, as much as possible, made it clear that I am not interested in standing to be prime minister. I have shut down those rumours.”

READ MORE: Badenoch says she was accused of being part of a Covid-19 ‘culling’ conspiracy

But she acknowledged “there will always be people who will speculate on your behalf”.

Launching a fightback, Sunak vowed that 2024 “will be the year Britain bounces back”, in remarks issued by Downing Street on Sunday night.

He faces another tough week with his Rwanda Bill returning to the Commons and an appearance before the backbench 1922 Committee.

Sunak said he hopes to see “more progress” on inflation when the Office for National Statistics releases the latest data on Wednesday.

He said: “There is now a real sense that the economy is turning a corner with all the economic indicators pointing in the right direction.

“This year, 2024, will be the year Britain bounces back.

“Inflation has more than halved, with the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) forecasting it will hit its 2% target in just a few months’ time, a full year ahead of what they were forecasting just a few months ago.”

Sunak will set out reforms to boost apprenticeships and cut red tape for small businesses at a conference in Warwickshire.

MPs are later expected to overturn changes made in the Lords to the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

That will set up a showdown with the upper chamber as the Government races to get the legislation through in order to meet Sunak’s goal of getting flights to Rwanda in the air this spring.

The Times reported that the first flights are unlikely to take off before mid-May, and that Kigali wants to test the policy with a pause of two months after it accepts the first tranche of migrants.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper tweeted: “Unbelievable. Govt finally admitting here that Tories’ flagship £500m Rwanda scheme will only cover around 150 people. Probable cost of this failing gimmick to British taxpayer is near £2m per person.”

The febrile mood within the party came after a bruising few days for the Prime Minister, with the defection of Lee Anderson – whom Sunak had promoted to Tory deputy chairman – to the right-wing populist Reform UK party, and his Budget failing to boost the Tories’ dire polling figures.

Sunak also came under fire over his handling of racist comments allegedly made by major party donor Frank Hester.

Hester is alleged to have said opposition MP Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Asked on LBC whether Hester’s donations, including £10 million given last year, should be handed back, Badenoch said: “No, I don’t think so at all and I am actually quite surprised that people suggest this.

“This was something that happened five years ago. He wasn’t talking to Diane Abbott, it wasn’t even really about Diane Abbott. He used her in a reference that was completely unacceptable.”

The Prime Minister will seek to calm nerves when he addresses the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs on Wednesday.

One senior ally told the Times Sunak would sooner call a general election than be forced into a leadership contest.

He is under pressure from Labour and the Liberal Democrats to name the date for the election after he ruled out holding it on May 2.