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By Becky Morton
Political reporter

Ex-minister Sir Simon Clarke has said he was acting on his own when he called for Rishi Sunak to be ousted.

In an interview with the BBC, the Tory MP refused to say who he thought should be prime minister as he did not want to “tarnish anyone”.

But he warned his party was on course for “a shattering defeat” without a change of leader.

A number of senior Tories have criticised Sir Simon over his calls for Mr Sunak to be removed as PM.

Asked if he was surprised none of his colleagues had publicly backed his argument, Sir Simon said: “I always expected this would be the start of a conversation.

“I’ve incurred some pretty hostile comments from a number of people… I can take that and I totally respect the strong views that something like this evokes.

“No one likes the guy who’s shouting ‘iceberg’ but I suspect that people will be even less happy if we hit the iceberg. And we are on course to do that.”

The MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland told the BBC there were “a range of views” within the party and “some colleagues privately agree with me”.

He also hinted that he expected more Tory MPs could join him in calling for a new leader.

“This is a moment of decision and whether that be after the by-elections next month, whether that be after the May local elections, I know there are colleagues who are looking to see whether this tanker is going to turn,” he said.

Pressed over who he thought should be prime minister instead of Mr Sunak, Sir Simon said “there are a number of people who could do it”.

He added: “I’ve done this on my own. And I’ve been really clear that I’ve done it deliberately on my own so that I don’t make anyone else the subject of the sort of criticism that I’ve incurred.”

He denied he was interested in the top job himself, saying he was “aware of my limitations as well as my strengths”.

Sir Simon sparked a backlash after warning in an article for the Daily Telegraph that the Tories would be “massacred” at the next general election unless Mr Sunak was replaced as PM.

Former Home Secretary Priti Patel accused him of “engaging in facile and divisive self-indulgence”.

Sir David Davis, a former Brexit secretary, said: “The party and the country are sick and tired of MPs putting their own leadership ambitions ahead of the UK’s best interests.”

No 10 said Sir Simon was entitled to his views but “clearly lots of other Conservative MPs disagree”.

The prime minister’s press secretary said “on the big issues”, such as lowering taxes where it is responsible to do so, “Conservatives support the direction we’re going”.

With the Conservatives continuing to trail Labour in the polls, many Tory MPs are growing increasingly concerned over their party’s prospects.

A general election is expected in the second half of this year, with 28 January 2025 the latest date one could legally be held.

Sir Simon is the second former minister to publicly call for Mr Sunak to resign. Former education minister Dame Andrea Jenkyns submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister in November.

To trigger a leadership election, 53 MPs must write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee requesting one.

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 as Levelling Up Secretary.

A source close to Ms Truss said she “had no idea what Simon Clarke is/was up to and is in no way supportive of what he is saying”.

Rishi Sunak is asked by the Labour leader why his own MPs consider him an “obstacle to recovery”

Sir Simon’s intervention came after Mr Sunak faced his biggest rebellion since becoming prime minister when 61 Tory MPs voted for changes to his flagship Rwanda bill.

It is not anticipated that two of the most prominent rebels – former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick – are about to join calls for the PM to go.

However, Mr Sunak’s critics say discontent with his leadership extends beyond the Rwanda rebels.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Mr Sunak of “endlessly fighting with his own MPs”.

“We have seen this story time and time again with this lot, party first, country second,” he said.

“The country forced to endure their division and chaos, the longest episode of Eastenders ever put to film.”

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