Dominic Raab has defended Rishi Sunak over accusations he betrayed Boris Johnson for the chance of becoming the Conservative leader.
The former chancellor quit the government over differing economic outlooks and Johnson’s failure to act on misconduct allegations against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.
But he has faced accusations from ministers and party members of disloyalty towards the prime minister, and been accused of plotting to take over the role.
Raab, a staunch supporter of both the prime minister and his former cabinet colleague, denied Sunak acted treacherously.
“Anyone who thinks Rishi stabbed Boris in the back is kidding themselves,” he told the Times. “Rishi worked hard to make the relationship with the prime minister work; he explained why in the end he couldn’t stay.”
Pitchforks were being pointed at the wrong leadership candidate, he added, insisting Liz Truss had been laying the groundwork for her campaign with her “Fizz for Liz” champagne dinner.
The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, a vocal adversary of Sunak, was quick to jump on Raab’s comments, accusing him of trying to “rewrite the facts”.
“Liz may have had drinks with MPs – but she did not resign her job, walk away, furtively campaign with MPs for votes, register a website, and was not campaign-ready or part of a planned coup,” she tweeted. “Sunak was. You can’t rewrite the facts.”
Throughout the Tory leadership race, Dorries has been criticised for “divisive, disingenuous and disturbing” interventions after posting a provocative image depicting the prime minister as Julius Caesar, shadowed by a knife-wielding Sunak.
The tension between both hopefuls’ camps has led to fears the leadership contest has torn a deep divide within the party – so much so that senior figures believe reunification is impossible.
One senior Tory told the Times: “The constant attacks are unedifying and they are damaging the party. There are now camps of people who will refuse to work with each other when this is all over.”