Issues in Downing Street under PM became 'insurmountable', says leadership hopeful Grant Shapps

100722 Grant Shapps and Boris Johnson, PA
Credit: PA

Issues at Downing Street under Boris Johnson became "insurmountable", Tory leadership hopeful Grant Shapps has said.

Pointing to allegations of repeated Covid-19 rule breaking in Downing Street during the pandemic - for which Mr Johnson and former chancellor Rishi Sunak were both fined over a gathering on the PM's birthday - the transport secretary said: "In the end, those who make the laws have to live by the laws and I think that just made it impossible."

The 53-year-old highlighted how he was unable to see his dad for "four months" during the pandemic.

"He was in hospital and we thought we had lost him," he told Sky News.

Speaking the day after he launched his bid to become the next prime minister, when asked why, unlike almost 60 other ministers and aides he did not resign from Mr Johnson's government, Mr Shapps said it was out of a sense of "responsibility".

"Why didn't I resign? I believe in public service. I think that this country has to have secretaries of state in place for legal responsibility in being able to assist - well, just to dispense government," he told Times Radio.

He added: "There is a responsibility, we have rail strikes on, we have issues at airports, many other things which I don't think it is right just to walk away from, so I just focused relentlessly on the job over a considerable period of time."

Boris Johnson and Simon Case at birthday party for the prime minister in the Cabinet room during lockdown. Credit: Sue Gray report

The transport secretary also said he believed he played a part in convincing Mr Johnson to step down.

Mr Shapps is thought to have been one of several Cabinet ministers who met with the PM on Wednesday night when it appeared his time in office was no longer tenable.

The MP for Welwyn Hatfield said he spoke to Mr Johnson to ensure he was "getting the facts" as "things were coming to a close" with his premiership.

Mr Shapps told Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: "I always just think that the best thing to do is be completely candid and just say it as it is.

"I could see that things were coming to a close...

"One of the problems in being a leader, eventually you get people around you who will just tell you what you want to hear.

"I just wanted to make sure that he was getting the facts, and that was my conversation with him. He listened carefully and, as we know, the next morning said that he would stand down."

Asked if he thought his intervention was "part of the reason" for Mr Johnson's departure, he said: "Yes, I mean, it's presenting the reality. So, yes, of course."

A number of Boris Johnson's current and former Cabinet members are in the running to replace him. Credit: PA

Despite his comments, Mr Shapps has been one of the PM's staunchest supporters during his premiership, frequently defending the beleaguered prime minister to media questions especially in the wake of the partygate scandal.

Speaking on Sky News, Mr Shapps was asked if Mr Johnson is a man on integrity, he said "like all of us he is fundamentally flawed".

"We all are as human beings," he added.

"I think one of his failings was he was almost too loyal to people."

Asked if this included Chris Pincher, he said: "Pincher, people would have said [Dominic] Cummings, and other people.

"But, in the end, he was also quite brave. He'd take decisions that I think other politicians would have perhaps said 'is that brave or is that reckless?', and the quality of decisions is then really under the spotlight."

Along with Mr Shapps, former health secretaries Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid, and chancellor Nadhim Zahawi all announced their intentions to challenge for the leadership on Saturday.

While on Sunday morning, trade minister Penny Mordaunt announced she would be joining the competition too.

It means the number in the running is now up to eight with Kemi Badenoch, Rishi Sunak, Tom Tugendhat, and Suella Braverman also in the race.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is widely expected to run with three MPs (Chloe Smith, Julian Knight and chief secretary to the treasury Simon Clarke) already expressing their support for the senior cabinet minister - though she is yet to launch a bid.

Out of the race is Defence Secretary Ben Wallace who has announced he will not be standing. Tipped to be a front-runner, should he mount a campaign, Mr Wallace said his focus is on his current role and "keeping this great country safe."

It was arguably the resignations of Mr Javid and former chancellor Rishi Sunak within an hour of each other on Tuesday night which started an avalanches of ministers and aides quitting government, ultimately pressurising Mr Johnson to step down.

Sajid Javid said he and Rishi Sunak did not time sending in their resignation letters so soon after each other. Credit: PA

While their letters came within minutes of each others, Mr Javid said he and Mr Sunak had not coordinated their actions.

Asked about the timing of the two resignations on the BBC's Sunday Morning, Mr Javid said: "Not at all. I had no idea what he was going to do. I can understand what he did because I read his letter afterwards, but not at all.

"This was a decision made by me, no one had - even the closest advisers in my department - no one had any idea I was going to do this and it wasn't about leadership or anything else."

Mr Javid was also questioned about what he believed surrounding the partygate allegations. Like Mr Shapps he has repeatedly defended Mr Johnson over the last few months.

The former health secretary and chancellor said he trusted what he was being told when he spoke on behalf of the government.

Watch Sajid Javid's resignation speech in full

Asked why he did not resign when he read the Sue Gray partygate report, he said: "Throughout that period, I was giving the benefit of the doubt" and said he thought this was "the right thing to do".

Asked if he always told the truth when he represented the government and believed what he had been told by the PM, the 52-yearold said: "I trusted what I was being told.

"It turns out some of the things I was told - and I said this quite clearly in Parliament when I made my statement - didn't turn out to be true.

"Now, I don't know why someone would have said something to me that wasn't true. That's a question for them. But I trusted what I was told."

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What happens next?

Following elections to the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee on Monday, the new body will draw up a timetable for the leadership election.

After his acrimonious resignation speech on Thursday, many MPs are anxious to see Mr Johnson out of No 10 as quickly as possible, fearing a summer of “chaos” if he remains.

Watch Boris Johnson's announcement on his resignation in full:

Downing Street however insisted he would not stand aside to allow Mr Raab to take over as a caretaker prime minister.

Labour has confirmed that it will table a Commons vote of no confidence in the government if Mr Johnson refuses to go voluntarily.

In order to succeed, however, it would require Tory MPs to vote with them – or at least abstain in large numbers – which would appear unlikely given it could lead to a general election they are likely to lose.