Boris Johnson’s anti-corruption tsar has resigned his position, claiming it is “pretty clear” the prime minister broke the ministerial code over the Partygate scandal.
The Conservative MP John Penrose also insisted Mr Johnson should step down as prime minister – just hours before the party holds a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
In a scathing letter to Mr Johnson, he accused the prime minister of breaching the code on the grounds that he had failed to provide adequate leadership over Partygate.
Mr Penrose said: “The only fair conclusion to draw from the Sue Gray report is that you have breached a fundamental principle of the ministerial code – a clear resigning matter.
“But your letter to your independent adviser on the ministerial code ignores this absolutely central, non-negotiable issue completely. And, if it had addressed it, it is hard to see how it could have reached any other conclusion than that you had broken the code.”
He added: “As a result, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be honourable or right for me to remain as your anti-corruption champion after reaching this conclusion, nor for you to remain as prime minister either.
“I hope you will stand aside so we can look to the future and choose your successor.”
His remarks came as the senior Tory MP Jeremy Hunt said he would be voting for “change” after Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee, announced a confidence vote will be held.
He said: “Having been trusted with power, Conservative MPs know in our hearts we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve.
“We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country.”
Claiming the party was on course to lose the next election, he said: “Today’s decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change.”
The former cabinet minister, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr Johnson for the leadership in 2019, also said the Conservative Party must now decide “if it wishes to change leader”.
“Because of the situation in Ukraine this was not a debate I wanted to have now but under our rules we must do that.”
But in a furious response, the culture secretary Nadine Dorries, one of Mr Johnson’s most loyal allies, accused the former health secretary of “duplicity” and claimed if he had won the Tory leadership contest “you’d have handed the keys of No10 to Corbyn”.
“You’ve been wrong about almost everything, you are wrong again now,” she said.
“Your pandemic preparation during six years as health secretary was found wanting and inadequate. Your duplicity right now in destabilising the party and country to serve your own personal ambition, more so.”