Senior Conservatives including the new education secretary are resisting pressure to speed up moves to replace Boris Johnson as party leader, insisting there should be a full contest involving members.
James Cleverly, who took charge of the education department on Thursday, also said Johnson had not put a timeline on how long he would remain in Downing Street after quitting as leader of the Tory party.
He rejected the former prime minister John Major’s call to expedite appointing a new leader by cutting out the final vote by Conservative party members across the country.
“I think testing the ability of a candidate to reach out beyond the Westminster bubble is incredibly important, so I think it’s an important part of the process,” Cleverly told Sky News.
Potential candidates who would benefit from a full contest involving members include Ben Wallace and Penny Mordaunt, who topped a YouGov poll this week of Conservative members.
On Monday, elections will take place to the executive of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, which will then set out the rules and timetable for the leadership contest.
Under current rules, MPs will vote in a series of secret ballots – depending on how many candidates there are – with the final two going forward to a vote of the membership.
Cleverly’s position was echoed on Friday morning by Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the treasurer of the 1922 Committee, who told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the vote for the next prime minister was likely to go to the party membership
“Under these circumstances, with the division in the party, I think it is a good thing that it goes to the membership so they have an opportunity to have their say and a vote.”
Cleverly also said Johnson would not make decisions that will bind the hands of his successor while he remained in No 10.
“The functions of government endure, and that is true when you’re going through a leadership change, as we are currently about to do, or whether there’s a general election. It’s a very well-established principle,” he told BBC Radio 4.
“The prime minister made explicit reference to this at cabinet, that we are not going to do anything that would tie the hands of our successors, we are not going to do anything that would, be kind of novel or, a big change from the currently set direction of travel.”
Cleverly’s remarks were in stark contrast to George Freeman, one the last ministers to quit before Johnson made his announcement, who said the tone of the prime minister’s address at Downing Street did not suggest he would see out his time with “quiet humility and contrition”.
“My real worry is the instability will fuel a febrile moment of midsummer madness, where we choose the wrong person in a hurry because of the instability,” he said.
However, the energy surrounding pressure from Tories for Johnson to step down this week in order to make way for another caretaker prime minister appeared to be fading.
Caroline Nokes, a former minister who has been one of Johnson’s most consistent critics, told the Today programme it was important to focus on the future, uniting the Conservative party and “getting the economy going again”. The leadership contest should be got “over and done with” in the next few weeks, she said.
Another former Tory minister, Andrew Mitchell, has said the next leader of the party needs to be someone “patently moral” who is “uncontaminated” by Johnson’s “mistakes”.
He told the BBC: “We need to have a leader who is unsullied, uncontaminated, if you like, by the mistakes. Particularly in the tone of the government, as well as some of its action, it needs to be someone clearly with experience. Finally, I think it does need to be someone who is patently moral and decent.”