STAFF in Downing Street have been told to start planning for a possible General Election in autumn next year.

The instruction, revealed by The Times, came from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new deputy chief of staff David Canzini.

Canzini – a disciple of Sir Lynton Crosby – set out a ranked list of priorities for the UK Government, with Brexit in first place, followed by the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS, crime and migrant boats, in that order, though the list was said not to be “formal”.

He told No 10 staff that if they did not think Brexit was a priority, they “shouldn’t be here”.

May 2024 has been the expected date for a fresh Westminster election.

The instruction to prepare comes amid lingering Tory concerns over partygate and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, which is putting fresh pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of his latest Budget.

The Herald: Chancellor Rishi Sunak speaking during the Conservative Party Spring Forum at Winter Gardens, Blackpool

Senior Conservatives have defended putting up taxes during a cost of living crisis but pledged that the high water mark had been reached and that taxes would be cut.

Sunak said tax hikes were “done” and that his “priority” was to slash taxes after being responsible for imposing the highest tax burden in 70 years through recent increases.

However Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said he would be “surprised” if there was an election before May 2024.

Speaking to the media in Aberdeen, he said plans to carry out long-delayed boundary changes would push it past 2023.

He also said the UK Government would want to show what it had delivered on the domestic front, besides cope with the pandemic.

“No one’s put me on election footing,” he said.

Mr Ross said that whenever the election came, he would stand down as an MP to focus on the Holyrood fight in 2026.

“I won’t contest Moray again at the next election, whether it's 23 or 24.”

Oliver Dowden, the Tory Party chairman, said the UK Government must “stand by” the decision to increase national insurance contributions by 1.25% next month, a move designed to pay to clear the coronavirus-induced NHS backlog.

But the Cabinet minister, speaking to reporters in Blackpool during his party’s spring conference, said ministers needed to “start looking at how we control Government spending” after Covid in a bid to get “back on that path” to easing the fiscal demands on voters.

“I want taxes cut as soon as they possibly can be,” Dowden said.

The Herald: Jacob Rees-Mogg

The comments came after Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg urged the party to “get back” to being a “tax-cutting Government”.

When asked during a live recording of the Moggcast podcast whether he wanted to see the national insurance rise reversed if there was “spare change” to do so, Rees-Mogg sidestepped the question, saying it was “a matter for the Chancellor”.

But he added: “The Conservative Party is a party of low taxation.

“I believe the chairman of the Conservative Party said yesterday that we are at the maximum level of taxation that we can manage, and I think that’s right.”

Sunak, speaking during an in-conversation event at the conference, said the “last thing” he had wanted to do as a Tory Chancellor was hike taxes.

However, he argued it would not have been “economically responsible” to have failed to address the financial problems caused by the pandemic, with borrowing reaching levels last seen during the Second World War.

But he assured party members: “That is done. We have made the difficult decisions that we had to make.

“My priority going forward is to cut taxes. I made that very clear at the Budget.”

With the spring statement due on Wednesday, the No 11 incumbent vowed to help the public “where we can” with soaring energy bills and rocketing prices at the petrol pumps, but said that the UK Government cannot “solve every problem”.

In his speech, Mr Dowden declared that the Tories, as of the May local elections, would be gearing up for a General Election poll within two years, issuing a call for candidates from “all walks of life”.

He told reporters later on Friday that there was “plenty of time” to make fiscal decisions before voters elect the next government.

The former culture secretary appeared to suggest it was no accident that the party had returned to Blackpool – previously a mainstay on the party conference circuit – for the first time since 2007, saying his outfit needed to be the “party of mill towns and mining towns as well as the metropolis”.

Elsewhere, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said improving opportunities across Britain did not need to mean “dampening the animal spirits of the South East”, arguing the answer was in “turbocharging” other areas.

“If we do that, if we make sure that every part of this United Kingdom is firing up economically, then the prize for success is enormous,” he said in his conference speech.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, meanwhile, denied the Tories had “become some kind of soggy bottom social democratic party”, saying it was “nonsense” to suggest he was in favour of a bigger state by introducing preventative measures.

“We spend too much time on the symptoms of ill health and too little time addressing the causes. There is no small state that isn’t a pre-emptive state,” he told the Winter Gardens audience.

Saturday will see Prime Minister close the two-day event at the resort, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also due to give a speech.