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One of Boris Johnson’s uber-loyalist Cabinet ministers today savaged Jeremy Hunt after the ex-health secretary urged fellow Tory MPs to topple the Prime Minister.
In the hours before a confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership, Mr Hunt this morning declared he would be ‘voting for change’.
He also warned fellow Conservative MPs the party is on course to lose the next general election if they keep Mr Johnson in power.
But Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries – one of Mr Johnson’s staunchest supporters – swiftly launched a furious counter-attack on Mr Hunt.
She tore into his record as a Cabinet minister – including his ‘inadequate’ pandemic planning during his five-and-a-half year spell in charge of the Department of Health – and accused him of ‘destabilising’ the party for ‘personal ambition’.
In an astonishing series of Twitter posts, Ms Dorries claimed Mr Hunt had been ‘wrong about almost everything’ from Brexit to Covid.
The strength of her outburst appeared to surprise even Ms Dorries’ fellow Cabinet ministers, with one admitting they were ‘sad and heartbroken’ at the Tory civil war now taking place.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries – one of Boris Johnson’s staunchest supporters – launched a furious counter-attack on Jeremy Hunt
Mr Hunt warned fellow Conservative MPs the party is on course to lose the next general election if they keep Mr Johnson in power
Mr Hunt, who also previously served as foreign secretary, was beaten by Mr Johnson to the Tory leadership in 2019 when party members elected a successor to Theresa May.
He has repeatedly failed to rule out another leadership challenge in a string of media appearances in recent weeks, as pressure grew on the PM over the Partygate scandal.
The South Surrey West MP characterised tonight’s vote on Mr Johnson’s leadership as a choice between ‘change or lose’ for Tory MPs.
‘We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country,’ he posted on Twitter this morning.
‘And because we are no longer trusted by the electorate, who know this too, we are set to lose the next general election.’
But, within an hour, Mr Hunt’s message to Tory MPs was met with a ferocious riposte from Ms Dorries.
In an astonishing series of Twitter posts, Ms Dorries claimed Mr Hunt had been ‘wrong about almost everything’ from Brexit to Covid
In a string of tweets she claimed, in July 2020 when she was a health minister, Mr Hunt had phoned her to say Britain should copy the example of China in dealing with Covid.
Ms Dorries claimed he had proposed the removal of Coronavirus-positive Britons into isolation hotels for two weeks.
In an attack on Mr Hunt’s leadership ambitions, she added: ‘Your handling of the pandemic would have been a disaster.
‘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.’
In a further strike out at Mr Hunt, Ms Dorries also claimed he had previously predicted the Government would ‘swiftly collapse’ after Brexit and he would be able to ‘swoop in’ as PM.
She added, if Mr Hunt had been Tory leader at the last general election, he would have ‘handed the keys of No10’ to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
‘You’ve been wrong about almost everything, you are wrong again now,’ Ms Dorries concluded.
Chris Clarkson, MP for Heywood and Middleton, joined the condemnation of Mr Hunt, as he described the ex-Cabinet minister as a ‘pound shop Machiavelli’.
He added: ‘He’s actively re-writing history. He’s definitely changed a few minds today, but not in the way he thinks.’
Asked about the astonishing row between Mr Hunt and Ms Dorries, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi later expressed his sorrow at the current state of relations between warring Tory MPs.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: ‘I feel sad and heartbroken that colleagues are currently having to attack one another.
‘I think that’s wrong, I think we have to come together – we are strongest when we are united, when we are delivering for the nation.’
Ms Dorries later defended her attack on Mr Hunt, claiming her criticism of him was ‘not personal’.
Asked if her comments had exacerbated the split between Conservative MPs, she told Sky News that Mr Hunt has ‘come out today himself and said that he has time for change – I think what he means is it’s time for him’.
She added: ‘I don’t want to talk about individual personalities but what I would say is that you can’t say repeatedly that you’re not going to challenge the Prime Minister when there’s a war in Ukraine, and on the day Russia fires rockets into Kyiv decide that it is time for change of leader – I’m afraid that’s just not acceptable.’