Rishi Sunak Tory leadership: Sir Simon Clarke has made his move, but lacked support to do so

There is little appetite for a new leader among the Conservative Party to replace Rishi Sunak, The Scotsman has been told

Rishi Sunak is facing calls from his own MPs to go, but is not remotely at risk of being ousted.

Sir Simon Clarke on Tuesday night joined former minister Dame Andrea Jenkyns in urging the Prime Minister to quit, warning the Tories faced being “massacred” at the next election.

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Sir Simon claimed “extinction is a very real possibility” if Mr Sunak leads the party into the election this year, and accused colleagues of “sleepwalking towards an avoidable annihilation”.

Tory infighting broke out after Sir Simon Clarke called for the Prime Minister to stand down.Tory infighting broke out after Sir Simon Clarke called for the Prime Minister to stand down.
Tory infighting broke out after Sir Simon Clarke called for the Prime Minister to stand down.

His argument has some merit. The party does have disastrous polling, and the Prime Minister’s approval ratings are even worse. But the idea of removing Mr Sunak has not garnered support, but a furious backlash.

One minister described Sir Simon’s letter as “completely embarrassing”, calling him a “thoughtless idiot”. Another Cabinet member told The Scotsman they felt like “giving up”, describing the letter as an act of “utter f******g insanity”.

Tories were just as scathing on the record, with former home secretary Priti Patel warning “engaging in facile and divisive self-indulgence only serves our opponents – it’s time to unite and get on with the job”.

Former Brexit secretary Sir David Davis added: “The party and the country are sick and tired of MPs putting their own leadership ambitions ahead of the UK’s best interests.” Tobias Ellwood called Sir Simon "self-indulgent, reckless and defeatist".

Sir Simon is a close ally of Liz Truss, who herself is no fan of Mr Sunak, but the former prime minister has made clear privately she does not support action.

His comments reflect a deep malaise in the Tory party, but also an awareness to have a fourth prime minister in one term would damage their stock even further, with MPs worries it would take them from a laughing stock to beyond contempt.

Just how isolated Sir Simon is was seen at Prime Minister’s Questions, where no MPs expressed support, and his only reference was in laughing digs from Sir Keir Starmer. The Labour leader said: “I have changed my party, he gets bullied by his.”

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In reality, this was an isolated incident from an MP close to a former leader and wing of the party that has no prospects. Sir Simon voted against the government on Rwanda, but had few rebels supporting him. For all the noise, MPs fell in line. There is no alternative.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t desperate. One Tory, not aligned with the rebels, told of being approached for a meeting with those on the right to discuss the future of the party. They told me they’d rather eat razor blades.

It speaks to a wider issue in the Tory party, in that there is no obvious solution to the crisis they find themselves in. Bad governing has created bad blood, numerous leadership candidates has sparked new factions to fight each other.

Sir Simon is no threat to the Prime Minister, even if his actions damage the party. The only real risk is Kemi Badenoch, with the business secretary hosting drinks and events for supporters, preparing for the inevitable. It is a classic move in Westminster, and Sir Keir did the same. She’s the one to watch, and there’s been no announcement, at least so far.



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