Tory infighting breaks out after former minister calls on Sunak to step down

Former ministers urged colleagues to put their duty to the country ahead ‘tribalism’.

Nina Lloyd
Wednesday 24 January 2024 06:28 GMT
Sir Simon Clarke challenged Rishi Sunak’s authority (Richard Pohle/The Times)
Sir Simon Clarke challenged Rishi Sunak’s authority (Richard Pohle/The Times) (PA Wire)

Tory infighting broke out into the open with senior party figures warning against “divisive self-indulgence” after a former minister called for Rishi Sunak to step down ahead of the general election.

Former ministers urged colleagues to put their duty to the country ahead of “tribalism” following a challenge to the Prime Minister’s authority launched by Sir Simon Clarke.

Writing in the Telegraph, the former levelling up secretary insisted “extinction is a very real possibility” for the party if Mr Sunak leads it into the election this year.

Sir Simon, who also served in the Treasury while Mr Sunak was chancellor, said the Conservatives face being “massacred” with him at the helm.

Other senior party figures immediately hit back, urging colleagues to “unite and get on with the job”.

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.”

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 comments come 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.

Sir Simon’s attack has given Sir Keir Starmer plenty of ammunition as he faces Mr Sunak for Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, with Labour having accused the Tories of embroiling themselves in a “circular firing squad”.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper branded the intervention “utterly ludicrous” and said voters were “sick and tired of this never-ending Conservative Party soap opera.”

Despite the intervention by Sir Simon, Mr Sunak is not believed to be in immediate danger of a leadership challenge.

A contest would only be triggered if 53 Tory MPs submit no confidence letters to the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee.

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