Ministers have called on Liz Truss to “disown” comments made by Nadine Dorries about Rishi Sunak.
The culture secretary, a supporter of Truss’s leadership bid, mounted a fresh attack as she made a half-hearted apology for previous comments about his expensive clothes.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, she described Sunak as an “assassin” for helping to bring down Boris Johnson, and a “dog in the manger” for not supporting the prime minister enough when he was chancellor.
She said she “may have gone over the top” when she criticized Sunak for wearing £450 Prada shoes and a £3,500 bespoke suit.
“I wanted to highlight Rishi’s misguided sartorial style in order to alert Tory members not to be taken in by appearances in the way that happened to many of us who served with the chancellor in cabinet,” she said.
“The assassin’s gleaming smile, his gentle voice and even his diminutive stature had many of us well and truly fooled.”
Business minister Greg Hands condemned Dorries’ actions as “distasteful” and “dangerous” in the wake of the killing of Southend West Tory MP Sir David Amess at a constituency surgery in Essex last October.
The MP, who is supporting Sunak’s campaign, told Sky News: “I’m sure Liz Truss would disown this kind of behaviour.
“I think this is appalling.
“Look, it’s not even a year since the stabbing of Sir David Amess at his Southend constituency surgery, so I think this is very, very bad taste, dangerous even”.
Welsh secretary Sir Robert Buckland, another Sunak supporter, also denounced Dorries’ behaviour.
“I think that sort of imagery and narrative is not just incendiary, it’s wrong,” he told BBC Radio Wales.
“I think it’s time for those who think that an argument about Prada shoes or earrings is more important, for instance, should wind their neck in and let people talk about the issues rather than the personality”.
Former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, who has announced he is supporting Truss, told Sky News: “It’s certainly not the sort of thing I would tweet.”
He added: “Nadine is well known as having strong views on things. Nadine speaks for herself, she’s very much an individual on that. But that is not a position that Liz would take”.
Liz Truss’s campaign have been contacted for comment.