A cabinet minister has described the ousting of Boris Johnson from No 10 as “a mistake”, amid evidence that Tory supporters regret his departure.
Grant Shapps said the prime minister’s record on Ukraine and Covid vaccines outweighed the scandals that brought him down and questioned if his successor could match his achievements.
“The party made a mistake forcing Boris out,” the transport secretary and supporter of Rishi Sunak’s leadership campaign said.
“I completely concede Boris is flawed. We’re all flawed in different ways. There was nothing about Boris’s flaws that you couldn’t have known in advance.”
Mr Shapps pointed to the vaccination programme “which saved thousands of lives, maybe millions around the world” and “busting through the complete impasse of Brexit”.
“He had that force of nature to do things,” he told The Times. “Boris was probably the only person with the force of personality and creativity to do it.”
The comments come as polls suggest many Conservative supporters who wanted Mr Johnson to go at the height of the Partygate and Chris Pincher scandals now wish he was staying in power.
One Opinion survey found 63 per cent prefer the prime minister with only 22 per cent favouring Liz Truss, the likely winner of the Tory leadership race.
This “seller’s remorse” threatens to be a big headache for the next prime minister – especially if, as rumoured, Mr Johnson turns up at the October party conference and receives a hero’s welcome.
Many Conservatives fear neither Ms Truss nor Mr Sunak can keep together the Tory 2019 election winning coalition of the party’s Southern heartlands and the “Red Wall’ gains.
The new leader will also arrive in the middle of the worst economic crisis for decades, having set out no detailed plans for plunging living standards.
Mr Shapps added: “Boris wasn’t always a details person. People think he wasn’t reading the briefs, but sometimes he would be all over them. But not always.
“A more straightforward response to the things that did go wrong would have been preferable. But you have to judge someone in the round.”
Mr Shapps is among a clutch of Sunak supporters likely to be removed or demoted if, as expected Ms Truss wins, including Dominic Raab, Steve Barclay, George Eustice and Mark Spencer.
But he praised the likely victor, saying: “I think she’s great. She’s been a very effective foreign secretary. I’ve worked with her a lot … She’s very good.”