'Rein his neck in': Tory MPs hit out at Lord Frost for attempts to shore up backing for Liz Truss

One Tory MP has said Lord Frost should 'reign his neck in' over attempts to gain backing for Liz Truss. Credit: PA

A Conservative MP has called on Lord Frost to "rein his neck in" and warned that his two major interventions in the Tory leadership campaign could badly backfire after the former Brexit minister hit out at two candidates.

First, the peer launched a scathing attack on frontrunner Penny Mordaunt about her time as trade minister saying she "wasn't fully accountable or always visible" and adding, "sometimes I didn't even know where she was".

He even claimed he'd asked Boris Johnson to remove her, before turning his fire on Kemi Badenoch - urging her to swing behind Liz Truss to unite the right.

One MP hit back: "He was a respected minister, but he is overplaying his hand. His attacks on Penny were quite nasty and now he is trying to pressure Kemi to drop out. He should rein his neck in."

They said that Lord Frost's attempts to shore up support for the foreign secretary, Ms Truss, could backfire as it could make supporters of Ms Badenoch instead opt for alternatives as a second choice.

"There are 49 MPs who are backing Kemi - and many of them won't switch to Liz if she's knocked out."

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There is also anger at Mark François, chair of the ardent Brexit group of MPs - the European Research Group (ERG) - urging members to all back Ms Truss.

Mr François’s message led to angry WhatsApps in return, including from Andrew Lewer who said it was up to MPs to make up their own minds, and Lee Anderson who wrote: "Sorry but I didn't realise this was a whipping group. I thought we were all free thinkers who are able to make our own minds up."

In a further message leaked to ITV News, Michael Fabricant said in response to Mr Anderson's message: "I agree with this. The ERG comprises intelligent people - not a flock - and we will make up our own minds. I think that any statement on these lines by the ERG is self-aggrandising! I've made up my own mind, thank you."

A leaked WhatsApp message shows anger with the ERG among some Tories. Credit: ITV News

One MP told me that there was particular irritation among newer Brexiteers.

"We are getting sick of the ERG. There are a lot of yesterday's men."

Ms Truss's allies are desperate to boost her position by urging MPs on the right of the party to consolidate their vote by swinging behind a single candidate. They were boosted by Suella Braverman offering her support along with her campaign manager Steve Baker - but they admit that what will be particularly key will be what happens to Ms Badenoch's vote if she falls away.

One MP supporting Ms Badenoch said he believed she could still win - as the TV debates could be a "game changer" but if she didn't - he would be more likely to back Ms Mordaunt, he said. He argued that the split for many colleagues was not left or right, or Brexit or Remain, but continuity or change.

Just five candidates remain. Credit: PA

The MP Rachel Maclean - also backing Ms Badenoch - told me she agreed saying that this contest is not about traditional divides. Ms Badenoch then made the same point at the Conservative Home hustings, arguing the party had to get past these splits.

Supporters of Tom Tugendhat also think the TV debates could be a game changer and insist he isn't giving up. Aaron Bell MP told me: "Tom has never backed down in the face of long odds before."

But there is also a feeling that Mr Tugendhat is very likely to be voted out on Monday - and his voters will swing to new candidates, and not necessarily all to Rishi Sunak as some might suspect.

As one MP put it - just because we are backing one contender now, doesn't mean that we will follow them like a block to whoever they choose next.