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Rishi Sunak must quit before he leads Tories to extinction, says ex-minister

Rishi Sunak should resign before he leads the Conservatives to “extinction”, a Tory MP has said in an excoriating attack on the prime minister.

In a dramatic intervention on Tuesday night, Simon Clarke, who was a Cabinet minister in Liz Truss’ short-lived government, urged Sunak to quit and make way for a new Tory leader.

In an op-ed for the Telegraph, Clarke said that Sunak’s “uninspiring leadership is the main obstacle to our recovery” and that he has “sadly gone from asset to anchor”.

He argued that Sunak “is leading the Conservatives into an election where we will be massacred” because “he does not get what Britain needs. And he is not listening to what the British people want.”

Clarke’s article set off a fresh round of internal party warfare. Tory grandees from all wings of the party hit back at Clarke on social media.

Priti Patel, the former home secretary, said on X that “engaging in facile and divisive self indulgence only serves our opponents”. David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said: “This is getting silly. The Party and the country are sick and tired of MPs putting their own leadership ambitions ahead of the UK’s best interests.”

Damian Green, chair of the One Nation caucus of centrist Tory MPs, said on the same platform that Clarke’s intervention was “wrong and unwise.” While Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, warned that “those who have an agenda to destabilise the government in an election year should understand the consequences”.

Speaking privately, other Tory MPs were even more forthright. “Not sure we should be taking top tips on leadership from Liz Truss’ right hand,” one minister told the Guardian.

“What the bloody hell is Simon Clarke doing?” said a Tory MP who backed Truss in the 2022 leadership contest.

Another said: “Simon Clarke hasn’t helped himself, the party, his country or any of his colleagues tonight – only Starmer. He needs to go home, have a lie down in a dark room and repeatedly say ‘I must take the fight to Labour’ until it finally sinks in.”

A senior Tory official said of Clarke: “If he wants to help Sir Keir become the next PM he should just cross the floor.”

In his piece Clarke conceded that “many MPs are afraid another change of leader would look ridiculous”, but added: “What could be more ridiculous than meekly sleepwalking towards an avoidable annihilation because we were not willing to listen to what the public are telling us so clearly?”

Senior Tories believe Clarke’s intervention is part of a coordinated plot against Sunak by some on the Tory right, including peer David Frost. Last week the Telegraph published a YouGov poll suggesting the Tories were headed for a crushing election defeat, accompanied by an op-ed from Frost arguing that their only hope was to take a harder line on immigration.

A new Tory leader would be the fourth Conservative prime minister in 18 months. Boris Johnson departed in September 2022 and was briefly succeeded by Truss before Sunak took charge.

Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden said the Tories were forming “another circular firing squad”. “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,” he said.

The Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader Daisy Cooper said it was “utterly ludicrous that the Conservative party is even discussing installing a fourth prime minister without even giving voters a say.”