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Sunak’s authority challenged as former minister calls for new leader

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Richard Pohle/The Times/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Richard Pohle/The Times/PA)

Conservative MPs must oust Rishi Sunak or face a “massacre” at the next election, a Tory former minister has insisted as the Prime Minister faces growing pressure from the right of his party.

Sir Simon Clarke, who served in the Treasury while Mr Sunak was chancellor, said “extinction is a very real possibility” with him at the helm.

Writing in the Telegraph, he said: “Rishi Sunak has gone from asset to anchor.”

UK Parliament portraits
Sir Simon Clarke has called for a change in leadership (UK Parliament)

Sir Simon said Mr Sunak was not solely to blame for the party flagging in the polls during an election year, but insisted “his uninspiring leadership is the main obstacle to our recovery”.

“The unvarnished truth is that Rishi Sunak is leading the Conservatives into an election where we will be massacred,” he wrote.

Other senior party figures hit back by warning colleagues against putting leadership ambitions before duty and engaging in “facile and divisive self-indulgence”.

Former Brexit secretary Sir David Davis said: “The party and the country are sick and tired of MPs putting their own leadership ambitions ahead of the UK’s best interests.”

Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel said: “At this critical time for our country, with challenges at home and abroad, our party must focus on the people we serve and deliver for the country.

“Engaging in facile and divisive self indulgence only serves our opponents, it’s time to unite and get on with the job.”

David Davis
Sir David Davis warned his Tory colleagues to be cautious (UK Parliament/Maria Unger/PA)

Former defence and trade secretary Sir Liam Fox said those attempting to “destabilise the Government in an election year should understand the consequences”.

Former prime minister Liz Truss, whose 2022 leadership bid Sir Simon threw his support behind before serving as levelling up secretary in her Cabinet, does not back his intervention, it is understood.

Downing Street has been contacted for comment.

Sir Simon was among 11 Conservative MPs who voted against the Prime Minister’s Rwanda Bill at its third reading earlier this month, despite Mr Sunak seeing off a wider Tory rebellion.

His intervention comes amid a slew of wider challenges facing the PM, including opinion polls that show a healthy Labour lead and making progress on pledges to “stop the boats” and revive Britain’s sluggish economy.

As infighting broke out on Tuesday night, opposition critics accused the party of embroiling itself in another “circular firing squad” and subjecting voters to a “never-ending Conservative soap opera”.

Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden said: “There are many good reasons for getting rid of this clapped-out Conservative government and liberating the British people from endless bouts of Tory infighting is certainly one of them.

“Whilst the Conservatives fight among themselves, Labour will fight for a better future for the country, where economic growth is felt in every part of Britain, where we generate the wealth we need for the NHS, good schools and safety on our streets and where we renew the country after 14 years of Tory failure.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “It is utterly ludicrous that the Conservative Party is even discussing installing a fourth prime minister without even giving voters a say.

“The Conservatives are once again fighting like rats in a sack while families face soaring bills and an NHS crisis. People are sick and tired of this never-ending Conservative Party soap opera.”