Rishi Sunak is being “bullied” by his own party, Keir Starmer has claimed, after yet another bout of Tory infighting over whether to change leader.

The Prime Minister responded to the attack at PMQs by accusing the Labour leader of having no plan for the country and being merely a “human weathervane”.

It followed former Cabinet minister Sir Simon Clarke, a supporter of former PM Liz Truss, calling for the Tories to replace Mr Sunak before the general election.

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Sir Simon wrote in the Telegraph that Mr Sunak was currently leading the Tories “into an election where we will be massacred” and “extinction is a very real possibility”.

He went on: “I know many MPs are afraid another change of leader would look ridiculous.

“But 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?”

Sir Simon’s comments were condemned by a series of senior Tories, including Home Secretary James Cleverly, who said his proposal was “foolish”.

At PMQs, Sir Keir said: “We have seen this story time and time again with this lot, party first, country second. Safely ensconced in Westminster they get down to the real business of fighting each other to death. The country forced to endure their division and chaos, the longest episode of EastEnders ever put to film.”

After criticising the Government’s record on protecting steel jobs and free childcare, he asked: “Isn’t he embarrassed that the Tory party is yet again entirely focused on itself?”

Mr Sunak accused Sir Keir of engaging in “sniping from the sidelines”, adding: “You can see exactly why [the recently proscribed] Hizb ut-Tahrir hired him in the first place [in 2008].

“Even his own party are now realising that he simply doesn’t have a plan for this country.”

The PM quoted criticism of Sir Keir by Labour MP Jon Cruddas and “long-time celebrity backer Steve Coogan”, adding: “Even the Labour Party know, he is not a leader, he is a human weathervane.”

Sir Keir responded: “It is not the sidelines, it is behind him that the fire is coming in. 

“He can try and blame the Labour Party all he wants, the difference is I have changed my party, he is bullied by his party.”

Earlier, a string of current and former ministers criticised Sir Simon Clarke’s comments.

Mr Cleverly told reporters: “I know Simon very well, I like him and respect him. I could not disagree with him more on this particular issue.

“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, and Keir Starmer has no plan, would undo all the good work, take us right back to square one.”

His predecessor 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.”

Former defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “My colleague, Sir Simon Clarke MP, is wrong. The way to win the next election is to tackle inflation and grow the economy.

“Rishi is doing just that. Division and another PM would lead to the certain loss of power. We need to focus on delivering for the public, not divisive rowing.”

Postal affairs minister Kevin Hollinrake admitted “of course, some people panic at a difficult time”, but told Times Radio it was “not the overwhelming view of the party”.

While 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.”

Sir Simon and former minister Dame Andrea Jenkyns are the only Tory MPs to have publicly called for Mr Sunak to go, far short of the 53 MPs required to submit letters to the backbench 1922 Committee to trigger a confidence vote.

Sir Simon was among 11 Tory MPs who voted against the Prime Minister’s Rwanda Bill at its third reading earlier this month, despite Mr Sunak seeing off a wider Tory rebellion.

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Tory MPs are anxious about Mr Sunak’s failure to close the opinion poll gap with Labour, but know another party leadership contest could exasperate voters. 

The Conservative Democratic Organisation, led by allies of former PM Boris Johnson, claimed grassroots Tories were effectively “on strike” because of disillusion with Mr Sunak.

The group’s chairman, former MEP David Campbell Bannerman, said: “Urgent change is needed. Sunak unfortunately has had his chance – and blown it.

“Members demand a leadership vote as soon as possible so we can turn things around and avoid electoral disaster. We need new management.”