Tory Cabinet ministers have been told to boot out Boris Johnson or face defeat at the next general election.
Conservative peer Lord Barwell, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff in No.10, said if the Tory party carries on as it is, it is “sleepwalking to a defeat at the next election”.
Barwell told Sky News he was “very pleased” someone senior in the party seemed to have “finally” recognised this and done something about it, after Oliver Dowden resigned as Tory chairman.
He said Johnson’s authority was “very significantly diminished” and “draining away”.
Lord Barwell said Cabinet ministers have got to ask themselves what it does to their own reputations if they continue to stand by him.
“The evidence is mounting up that he has lost the support of the public that he once had, that it looks extraordinarily unlikely that he’s going to be able to win that back,” he said.
“So, if they allow him to carry on, then they’re going to allow him to lead the Conservative Party to a significant defeat at the next election.”
In a letter to Boris Johnson, he said “we cannot carry on with business as usual – somebody must take responsibility”.
Dowden said they were “the latest in a run of very poor results for our party”.
“Our supporters are distressed and disappointed by recent events, and I share their feelings,” he said.
Meanwhile, Johnson sought to deflect from the by-election defeats being about his leadership.
He told broadcasters in Rwanda: “That may be your view. I think that what governments also have to recognise is that I don’t want to minimise the importance of what voters are saying, but it is also true that in mid-term, government, post-war, lose by-elections.
“I think if you look back to last May the truly astonishing thing was we managed to win Hartlepool in very different circumstances.
“What we need to do now is reflect on where voters are, and what they are basically feeling is that we came through Covid well and we took a lot of the right decisions there. But we are facing pressures on the costs of living.
“We are seeing spikes in fuel prices, energy costs, food costs, that is hitting people. We have to recognise that there is more that we have got to do and we certainly will, we will keep going addressing the concerns of people until we get through this patch.”