Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss has insisted she is running a "positive" campaign to become prime minister following supporter Nadine Dorries’ decision to retweet a mocked-up image of Rishi Sunak stabbing Boris Johnson in the back.
Culture Secretary Ms Dorries - a high-profile backer of Ms Truss and a fervent Johnson supporter - shared a doctored image on Twitter that portrayed Mr Johnson as Julius Caesar with Mr Sunak as one of the assassins.
A string of Conservative MPs – mostly supporters of Mr Sunak – quickly condemned Ms Dorries and branded the attacks on the former chancellor as “dangerous” in the wake of the murder of Sir David Amess.
Ms Truss said she has deleted Twitter off her mobile during her premiership bid
Allies of Ms Truss were quick to distance her campaign from Ms Dorries' decision to share the image, with the foreign secretary insisting she had been “very clear” with her team about the type of campaign she wanted to run.
Asked about Ms Dorries’ actions, Ms Truss told broadcasters: “I’ve taken Twitter off my phone for the duration of this campaign.
“I’ve been very clear with all of my team, I’m running a positive campaign. This is about growing the economy, it’s about unleashing the potential right across the UK.”
At the second of 12 official leadership hustings with party members, in Exeter, Devon, Penny Mordaunt threw her support behind Ms Truss on Monday night.
Introducing Ms Truss at the event Ms Mordaunt, the most recent candidate to be knocked out of the Tory leadership race, said: “I’ve seen enough to know who the person I’m going to put my faith in is. And that is Liz Truss.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, Ms Truss’ campaign manager, earlier told Times Radio it was Ms Dorries’ personal choice to post the message.
Ms Coffey said: “Well, I wouldn’t have done it. The Liz for Leader campaign certainly didn’t do it.
"Nadine chose to do it. I’ve made her aware that many colleagues were upset by it.
“It’s for Nadine to decide how she runs her social media. But all I say is that I’m really here to focus on Liz rather than other news.”
She added: “I’m not going to go into individual conversations, but she recognised that other people would have been upset by some of this, but she’s very keen to make the case herself.”
Ms Dorries has been particularly vocal about her opinions on Mr Sunak and accused him of unleashing "the hounds of hell" on the prime minister.
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She raised eyebrows last week when she hit her former Cabinet colleague with a tirade of criticism on Twitter, condemning the leadership contender as out of touch for campaigning in a "£3,500 bespoke suit" and £450 Prada shoes, while his rival Ms Truss was wearing £4.50 earrings from Claire's Accessories.
She tweeted again hours later following the first head-to-head leadership debate, during which Mr Sunak was accused of "mansplaining", saying he is "irritable, aggressive, bad tempered".
The former chancellor was asked earlier about accusations he is a “backstabber” on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, but said he would not comment specifically on “what others are choosing to say”.
He added: “I will tackle the broader claim that they (the accusations) relate to, because I do think there is a risk that people are looking at the last few months of the government with slightly rose-tinted glasses about what it was really like.
“Because it wasn’t working as it should, and crucially the government found itself on the wrong side of a very serious ethical issue, and, for me, also going down the wrong economic path, and that’s why in the end more than 60 MPs at the last count, I think, resigned from the government, of which I, after a lot of deliberation and months of standing by the PM, was one of them.”
Despite suggesting the handling of sexual misconduct allegations surrounding Chris Pincher is why he quit government, Mr Sunak refused to say whether the disgraced ex-minister should resign as an MP.
He said "trust is really important" and added that if he were to become PM, he would quickly reappoint an independent adviser “to make sure that ministers and the government are held to account for their behaviour”.