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Rishi Sunak has set in train two perilous by-elections in Tory seats next month but has been left guessing when he will be able to call a third contest in the seat held by former minister Nadine Dorries.

Sunak on Wednesday introduced the legal writs required to trigger the contests to be held in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Boris Johnson’s former seat, and Selby, the seat held by Johnson’s ally Nigel Adams. Both formally quit as MPs this week.

But the prime minister has been left seething by Dorries’ refusal to carry out her promise last Friday to step down immediately as MP for the seat of Mid Bedfordshire.

Sunak wanted to hold all three by-elections on the same day — the political equivalent of tearing off a bandage — so that the pain is taken on the same night in July, before MPs depart for their summer break.

But Dorries, who blames Number 10 for blocking her elevation to the House of Lords in Johnson’s resignation honours list, has told friends she wants to make Sunak suffer.

“She wouldn’t mind ruining Rishi’s holiday,” said one friend, arguing that if Dorries refrained from formally resigning for a few weeks, the prime minister might have to hold a by-election in the summer or early autumn.

“Rishi hasn’t taken a holiday for three and a half years,” retorted one ally of the prime minister. “That won’t bother him.” Another senior Tory official said: “He does think the people of Mid Bedfordshire deserve proper representation in this house.”

The Selby and Uxbridge by-elections are expected to be held on either July 13 or July 20. Both contests are problematic for Sunak, who is struggling to contain internal party feuding and the fallout of rising mortgage rates.

Bookmakers make the Tories narrow favourites to win Selby in Yorkshire, where the party is defending a 20,137 majority, but Labour officials said they were hopeful the party could overturn it.

However, Labour are overwhelming favourites to win Johnson’s old seat, which the former prime minister won in 2019 with a majority of 7,210.

A by-election in Mid Bedfordshire cannot be triggered until Dorries carries out the formal step of resigning, which requires her to write to the chancellor of the exchequer in an antiquated parliamentary procedure.

Dorries has told friends she will formally step down at a moment of her choosing, noting that one Labour MP, Rosie Cooper, last year took two months to follow through on her announced resignation.

Dorries maintained on Twitter on Wednesday evening that it was still “absolutely my intention to resign”, but said she had first submitted official requests for personal information, seemingly over her thwarted peerage, to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, to cabinet secretary Simon Case and to the Cabinet Office.

“I have requested copies of WhatsApp’s, text messages, all emails and minutes of meetings both formal and informal with names of senior figures un redacted,” she wrote. “I will then take the time to properly consider the information I am provided.”

Greg Hands, chair of the Tory party, visited Dorries’ constituency on Sunday and attempted to calm relations.

“I pay tribute to Nadine,” he said. “She was 18 years the member of parliament and was elected with 60 per cent of the vote last time around. She has been a popular MP and has done brilliant work on keeping children safe with the online safety bill and all of those things.”

But relations between Dorries and Sunak are dire. The former culture secretary told Talk TV that Sunak was a “privileged posh boy” who “cruelly” blocked her from a seat in the House of Lords.

Whenever the vote is held, the Liberal Democrats are confident of winning the Mid Beds seat and are the bookmakers’ favourites, although Labour insists it will fight to win the seat, which was won by Dorries with a majority of 24,664 at the 2019 election.

Privately, Labour officials admit that if it becomes clear they cannot win in Mid Beds they will “target resources” at seats where they are more likely to beat the Tories.

Daisy Cooper, Lib Dem deputy leader, said: “This by-election is going to be a close two-horse race between the Liberal Democrats and an out-of-touch Conservative party.

“We have already heard from life-long Conservative and Labour voters across Bedfordshire who are backing the Liberal Democrats to send this government a message.”

Previously, Labour has discreetly stepped back in by-elections where the party stood no chance of winning, allowing the Lib Dems to dominate the anti-Tory vote.

This unofficial non-aggression pact, which is reciprocated by the Lib Dems in seats targeted by Labour, helped the centre party to secure recent historic by-election wins against the Conservatives in North Shropshire, Chesham and Amersham, and Tiverton and Honiton.

Both parties deny any formal deal, but the “targeting of resources” effectively means that they have election strategies intended to inflict maximum damage on Sunak’s party.

Conservatives believe they can hold on in Selby but admit that the “circumstances” of the contests triggered by Johnson and his allies quitting the Commons will make victory hard to secure.

One senior party official said: “We are going to lose all three, there’s no question about that.”

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