The Prime Minister tells the truth “to the best of his knowledge”, a Cabinet minister has said, as she suggested those calling for Boris Johnson to resign were those who wanted the UK to remain in the EU.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries repeatedly sought to blame Remainers for plotting against the PM in interviews on Saturday morning.
She admitted “there are a number of reasons actually, it’s not just one”, but she said: “That certainly is at play with a group.”
However, out of the 15 Tory MPs who have so far publicly called on Boris Johnson to go, just seven of those had publicly backed remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum.
One of those who has said the Prime Minister should go is David Davis, who served as Brexit Secretary, and another is strident Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen.
But Ms Dorries told Times Radio: “There are a small number of voices, whether they are people who were ardent supporters of Remain, who see this as their last opportunity to reverse Brexit.”
Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond, however, said that was “predictable rubbish from a predictable source”.
The Conservative told BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster programme: “I think as far as I can see, the people who so far declared that they’ve written a letter are from all wings of the party and none.”
Asked whether it was “the beginning of the end” for the PM, he said: “It certainly looks like that at the moment.”
Ms Dorries was also forced to insist Mr Johnson tells the truth as the PM came under sustained pressure over the future of his premiership.
She said Mr Johnson told the truth “to the best of his knowledge” based on what he was told by his aides.
Challenged about a claim made by Mr Johnson in the Commons about the number of people in work before and after the pandemic, Ms Dorries told BBC Breakfast: “He will have been given by advisers and researchers the fact that there were more people in work than there were at the beginning of the pandemic, not on the payroll.”
She said: “So did he tell the truth when he quoted that? Yes, he told the truth as it was given to him.”
“I can personally tell you that the Prime Minister, when he stands at the despatch box and makes quotes like the one you just quoted, is because the researchers and his advisers will have given him that quote, and that’s… and he was truthful, to the best of his knowledge, when he made that quote,” she said.
She added: “The Prime Minister does tell the truth.”
Honesty was one of the key reasons former minister Nick Gibb said on Friday that he could no longer support the PM, and had submitted a letter of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady.
Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Gibb, MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said his constituents were “furious about the double standards” and he said the Prime Minister had been “inaccurate” in statements to the Commons.
He said: “The Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Allegra Stratton for joking about a Christmas party that she hadn’t attended, but he won’t take responsibility for those that he did attend. I am sorry to say that it is hard to see how it can be the case that the Prime Minister told the truth.”
The MP said: “To restore trust, we need to change the Prime Minister.”
Backbencher Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) also declared publicly he had submitted a letter calling for a vote of no confidence in his leader.
John Glen, a Treasury minister and Salisbury MP, said the situation with No 10 was “deeply uncomfortable, disappointing, and embarrassing”.
Writing in his local newspaper The Salisbury Journal, he did not call for the Prime Minister to resign but said: “The culture in Number 10 fell short of what the country had a right to expect, and responsibility must be taken for the mistakes that were made.”
The interventions brought the number of Tory MPs who have now publicly called for Mr Johnson to resign to 15.
Privately, the number is expected to be higher.
Mr Johnson also lost five No 10 aides in 24 hours on Thursday and Friday.
But Ms Dorries insisted 97% of Conservative MPs were behind the Prime Minister.
This included, she said, the Health Secretary following comments over the Prime Minister’s allegation that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
She said: “I spoke to Sajid Javid last night and he reassured me that he is 100% behind the Prime Minister.
“In fact, I think he’s quite shocked at how his comments have been interpreted.”
Mr Javid said Sir Keir deserved “absolute respect” for the job he did as director of public prosecutions and that it was important that the Prime Minister “clarified” his earlier accusation that Sir Keir had failed to prosecute Savile.
Earlier, Chancellor Rishi Sunak had said he would not have made the comments.
Ms Dorries said her Cabinet colleague was “entitled to his views”.
Ms Dorries told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “anybody who leads an organisation, like the Prime Minister leads the Government or Keir Starmer led the Crown Prosecution Service, when something goes wrong, you take responsibility and you apologise”.
She said: “Rishi Sunak is entitled to his views and you know, he’s entitled to say… make any comments that he wants to.”
Ms Dorries was defending the Prime Minister as other Tory MPs are expected to consider over the weekend whether to write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham in an attempt to force a leadership contest.
Former minister Dr Liam Fox has said he is “waiting to see what comes out of” the full Sue Gray report into the partygate saga.
Mr Johnson was facing fresh accusations on Saturday after The Mirror reported that the Metropolitan Police had been handed a photograph of Mr Johnson holding a beer at an alleged gathering in June 2020 to mark the Prime Minister’s birthday.