'Infighting opens the door to Starmer': Tories defend Sunak amid bid to oust him

One of the prime minister's former cabinet colleagues has launched a stinging attack in The Telegraph newspaper

Tory MPs are rallying around Prime Minister Rishi Sunak amid another attempt to oust him by some on the right of the party.

Home Secretary James Cleverly warned dissenting colleagues they would open the door for Labour leader Keir Starmer to enter Number 10 if they continue "foolish" internal arguments.

It comes after senior Conservative Sir Simon Clarke became the latest backbencher to call for Mr Sunak to either step down or for fellow MPs to remove him before what he predicts would be an election "where we will be massacred".

Sir Simon, who was Mr Sunak's deputy when the now-PM was chancellor, wrote an article for The Telegraph, said a Conservative loss at this year's general election would be "inevitable" under Mr Sunak.

The MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, who was housing secretary under Liz Truss' leadership, wrote: "The unvarnished truth is that Rishi Sunak is leading the Conservatives into an election where we will be massacred.

"Denial of impending catastrophe is an extraordinarily powerful human instinct."

He added: "We have a clear choice. Stick with Rishi Sunak, take the inevitable electoral consequences, and give the Left a blank cheque to change Britain as they see fit."

But Home Secretary Cleverly told broadcasters he respects Sir Simon but "could not disagree with him more".

"If we were to do something as foolish as have an internal argument at this stage, all it would do is open the door for Keir Starmer," he said.

But the minister did not deny being concerned about Sir Simon's warning that the party will struggle at the next general election, which many believe will be called in November.

A senior Tory spokesperson, told ITV News that Sir Simon's words were a "self-indulgent attempt to undermine the government at a critical moment for the country".

"He may claim to be helping the party but the only person he is doing any favours for is Sir Keir Starmer.”

Other senior party figures hit back by warning colleagues against putting leadership ambitions before duty and engaging in “facile and divisive self-indulgence.”

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.”

Meanwhile, 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.”

The article comes a week after Sir Simon voted against the prime minister's controversial Rwanda bill, making him one of 11 to rebel against the party.

And days ago another Tory calling for Mr Sunak's head, former minister Andrea Jenkyns, claimed she was joined by at least 29 other Tory MPs who had written letters of no confidence in the PM.

She told GB News: “We’ve got to replace Rishi.”

"I’m hearing that more letters are going in today, and I still think he’s on borrowed time," she said.

Opinion polling is currently swinging drastically against the Conservative party, with an electoral wipeout expected.

A YouGov survey of 14,000 people indicates that the Tories could hold on to as few as 169 seats as Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour enters Downing Street with 385, with key party players losing their place in the commons.

'Get your head down and get some work done'

Postal affairs minister Kevin Hollinrake said he does not think that a “plot” against Mr Sunak was happening.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “You’re talking about an isolated position taken by one Member of Parliament. We’re not talking about the overwhelming view of the parliamentary party or the political party.”

In a message to Sir Simon and “anyone else who shares his views”, Mr Hollinrake said: “Get your head down and get some work done, let’s turn this country around – which is what we’re doing.

“Of course, we’ve been through a difficult time, we’ve been through Covid, the cost of living crisis, the troubles in the Red Sea.

"And what we see is a prime minister is taking action on all those fronts and delivering a plan that’s working.”

The Tory MP said: “We’ve always been a broad church, a coalition of different people with different interests and debate is very healthy in a parliamentary democracy, but we are united in many aspects, all significant aspects, which is tackle these systemic issues.”

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