Tory infighting has broken out in public ahead of Boris Johnson's no confidence vote this evening, with the culture secretary blaming a former health secretary for when she suggested was the government's "inadequate" pandemic planning.
Nadine Dorries issued a scathing attack on Jeremy Hunt after he revealed he would be voting to oust Prime Minister Johnson in tonight's vote.
Mr Hunt, who is regarded as perhaps the most influential backbencher and potential favourite to replace the PM in any leadership contest, told his Twitter followers that "today’s decision is change or lose" and he will "be voting for change".
But Ms Dorries, a passionate defender of the prime minister, said Mr Hunt's "pandemic preparation during six years as health secretary was found wanting and inadequate".
She added: "Your duplicity right now in destabilising the party and country to serve your own personal ambition, more so."
Twitter users said Ms Dorries had scored a huge own goal by admitting the government's pandemic planning was not good enough.
Mr Hunt, who was beaten by the current PM in the final round of the 2019 leadership contest, had until today remained silent on the question of whether Mr Johnson should resign.
But he was swiftly out the blocks after it was announced by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, that at least 15% of the parliamentary Conservative Party had triggered a no confidence vote.
Nadine Dorries defends Boris Johnson in interview with ITV News as she attacks Jeremy Hunt
Shortly after a confidence vote was confirmed, Mr Hunt said: "The Conservative Party must now decide if it wishes to change its leader. Because of the situation in Ukraine this was not a debate I wanted to have now but under our rules we must do that.
"Having been trusted with power, Conservative MPs know in our hearts we are not giving the British people the leadership they deserve.
"We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country.
"And because we are no longer trusted by the electorate, who know this too, we are set to lose the next general election."
He continued: "Anyone who believes our country is stronger, fairer & more prosperous when led by Conservatives should reflect that the consequence of not changing will be to hand the country to others who do not share those values.
"Today's decision is change or lose. I will be voting for change."
But Culture Secretary Ms Dorries hit back: "Your pandemic preparation during six years as health secretary was found wanting and inadequate," she said.
"Your duplicity right now in destabilising the party and country to serve your own personal ambition, more so."
Ms Dorries, a former health minister, claimed Mr Hunt had told her he expected the Government to collapse on the back of Brexit "and you would swoop in".
"If you had been leader you'd have handed the keys of No 10 to (Jeremy) Corbyn.
"You've been wrong about almost everything, you are wrong again now."