Nadine Dorries has said there is a “coordinated campaign” to remove Boris Johnson as prime minister.
Johnson is facing a vote of no confidence in his leadership, as a steady stream of Tory MPs demand he resign in the wake of the Sue Gray report into partygate.
The calls have come from across different wings of the Conservative Party, but Dorries said rebel MPs were not acting on their own.
“There is obviously, I think probably led by one or two individuals, a campaign behind the scenes to try attempt to remove the prime minister for individual reasons to do with personal ambition and other reasons,” the culture secretary said on Wednesday.
But asked by BBC Radio 4 who were the ringleaders, the close ally of Johnson said: “I have no idea.” She added: “There is obviously a coordinated campaign.”
Dorries added: “I think what we are talking about is becoming very much a Westminster-centric, Westminster bubble issue and what I detect out in the country is that people are wanting to move on.”
Johnson could be forced from office as soon as next week, if 54 MPs submit letters of no confidence and over half of them vote to remove him as leader.
Earlier, the PM rejected the suggestion he should quit. “Why am I still here? I am still here because we’ve got huge pressures economically we’ve got to get on,” he told Mumsnet.
“I just cannot see how it would be responsible right now, given everything that is going on, simply to abandon the project on which I embarked.”
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, is the only person who knows the number of letters that have been sent in.
It is widely expected in Westminster that Brady would wait until Parliament returns from the current recession next Monday, after the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, before revealing whether the 54 threshold had been met.