Sir Simon Clarke warns the Tories will be “massacred” in the general election if led by Rishi Sunak.
A senior Tory MP has called for his party to replace Rishi Sunak as prime minister or be “massacred” in the general election.
In an article in the Telegraph, former cabinet secretary Sir Simon Clarke said the Conservatives needed a leader who “shares the instincts of the majority”.
Sir Simon, who rebelled on the Rwanda Bill, said the party has lost “key voters” by failing to be bold on immigration and government reform.
Downing Street has yet to comment.
A general election is expected in the second half of this year. The latest the next election could legally be held is 28 January 2025.
Sir Simon is now the second former minister publicly calling for Mr Sunak to resign. Former education minister Dame Andrea Jenkyns submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister in November.
After serving as Chief Secretary to the Treasury while Mr Sunak was Chancellor, Sir Simon became an enthusiastic supporter of Liz Truss’s leadership bid and joined her cabinet.
Conservative MPs can only trigger a leadership election if 53 MPs write to the chair of the 1922 Committee requesting one.
In his Telegraph op-ed, Sir Simon said “the Conservative Party under Rishi Sunak once again stands on the opposite, crumbling bank of this widening precipice”.
The former levelling up secretary said Tory MPs might be “afraid” of electing a fourth leader in two years but asked: “Which is worse: a week of chaotic headlines in Westminster, or a decade of decline under Keir?”
“Every Conservative MP will need to live with the decision they make in the coming days for the rest of their lives. Failing to act would itself represent a decision,” he added.
Sir Simon’s comments come after a week of open rebellion against Mr Sunak over his flagship Rwanda Bill – to deter migrants from crossing the Channel in small boats.
Last week 61 Conservative MPs voted to change the bill as it went through Parliament – the biggest rebellion of Mr Sunak’s premiership.
The debate over the legislation has exposed on-going divisions among Conservatives with two deputy chairmen, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith, quitting their roles in order to vote for the rebel amendments.
On the other side, the One Nation caucus of about 100 Tory MPs threatened to kill the bill if the Mr Sunak agreed to any of the rebel amendments.
‘Divisive self indulgence’
Several ex-Tory cabinet ministers have criticised Sir Simon’s article.
Former home secretary Dame Priti Patel accused her colleague of “engaging in facile and divisive self indulgence”.
And former Brexit Secretary 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.”
John Ashworth, a Labour shadow cabinet minister, said Sir Simon’s article revealed just how divided the Conservative party is.
Mr Ashworth said: “It doesn’t matter who leader is because the party is divided from top to bottom.”
Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper said it is “utterly ludicrous that the Conservative Party is even discussing installing a fourth prime minister without giving voters a say”.
Mr Sunak is the third Conservative prime minister since the 2019 election, after MPs deposed both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss in 2022.
There has been a sense of gloom among Conservatives over the past few weeks as Mr Sunak’s repeated attempts to gain the upper hand politically have failed to make a dent in their standing, trailing Labour by 18 points in polls.
A 14,000-person general election poll by YouGov, projected Labour was on course for a 120-seat majority as things stand.
If accurate the poll would mean “more Tory seats being lost than in 1997, the Red Wall being wiped out completely and shocking defeats in historic Tory constituencies like Chichester, Horsham and Banbury,” Sir Simon said.