Ex-Minister’s Call for Sunak to Quit Shows Tory Strife Not Over

Ex-Minister’s Call for Sunak to Quit Shows Tory Strife Not Over

(Bloomberg) — A senior Conservative member of Parliament has publicly called for Rishi Sunak to quit, in the latest sign of the prime minister’s failure to pacify rebellions in the ruling party ahead of an election this year.

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Simon Clarke, a former Leveling Up minister, said in a commentary published by the Daily Telegraph newspaper late Tuesday that Sunak was leading the Tories to “impending catastrophe” in an election, “where we will be massacred.” The piece came less than a week after Sunak successfully pushed his signature anti-migration legislation through the House of Commons, despite 11 Tory “No” votes including Clarke, who argued the bill didn’t go far enough.

“Rishi Sunak has sadly gone from asset to anchor,” Clarke wrote. “We can change leader, and give our party and country a fighting chance.”

Downing Street didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Former Home Secretary Priti Patel on X described Clarke’s intervention as a “facile and divisive self-indulgence” that would only help the Labour opposition. Former Brexit Secretary David Davis called the article “silly.”

Public Tory criticism of Sunak’s plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda, including the resignation of two deputy Conservative chairman last week, demonstrated the prime minister’s weak grip over his party at a time when it’s already trailing the Labour opposition by some 20 percentage points in the polls. Still, the rebels also showed they lacked sufficient numbers to challenge him outright.

Clarke, who served as chief secretary to Treasury while Sunak was Chancellor of the Exchequer, is now a member of the Conservative Growth Group, a collection of MPs carrying on the low-tax mantra of former Prime Minister Liz Truss. While Clarke has so far demonstrated little sway over the broader party, the danger for Sunak is that he inspires more Tories to submit letters of no-confidence to a committee of rank-and-file ruling-party lawmakers who can call a leadership vote.

To trigger a leadership challenge, Sunak’s internal opponents would have to muster letters of no confidence from 15% of Conservative MPs, meaning more than 50 Tories. There is no sign that that threshold is being close to being met.

“I sadly believe there is nothing he can do to win back the trust of the key voters who have left us,” Clarke said. “If we change the leader to a prime minister who shares the instincts of the majority and is willing to lead the country in the right direction, we will recover strongly in 2024.”

–With assistance from Alex Wickham and Kitty Donaldson.

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