Although the Minister of State for the Environment had lost the confidence of his local party, earlier in the day he was still insisting that he would not be forced out of office by 'media attacks'. But then the Prime Minister's albeit arms-length support was, in effect, withdrawn and government sources laid the blame for Mr Yeo's final demise at his own door.
Whips took the view as early as Tuesday night that Mr Yeo's main error was in failing to 'square' the problems with his constituency before the Christmas break.
Mr Yeo's absence on a family holiday in the Seychelles, leaving shocked constituents in limbo, served only to allow discontent to gather pace. He was told by whips yesterday that his relationship with his South Suffolk constituency had become untenable. Mr Major could do little about that.
Mr Yeo returned to his Department of the Environment office at lunch-time and drafted his resignation letter. His fate was sealed by a damning statement yesterday morning by Patricia FitzPatrick, his association chairman, which urged him to reflect on the fact that the officers were 'deeply concerned at the widespread disappointment and criticism being expressed by party members'. Amid a welter of accusations about double-standards and hypocrisy, Downing Street furiously sought to emphasise that Mr Major's 'back to basics' campaign consisted of clear messages about education, crime and law and order, not single parents. It concerned 'lasting community values, not moral judgements about one person or a group of people'.
The distinction was largely lost in Suffolk South. Derek Redhead, one of four association vice-chairmen, said: 'To me the whole affair has been very saddening. Tim Yeo has always been a very good constituency MP with whom we have enjoyed working. However, he did unfortunately make a grave error of judgement and, consequently, like any other responsible individual, he has had to pay the price.'
Mrs FitzPatrick said: 'His resignation was, of course, a matter for Mr Yeo and the Prime Minister. Since the news broke 11 days ago, it has been a difficult and emotional time for us all.'
Tory MPs began to emerge from the woodwork with some insisting Mr Yeo should have resigned as soon as his predicament became clear. Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, was quick to defend the Prime Minister against attacks for standing up for his colleagues.
However, the episode has undoubtedly damaged perceptions of Mr Major's authority at a time when the Government is trailing Labour in the opinion polls by about 20 points.
Mr Yeo told Mr Major in his resignation letter: 'Although I consider that my personal life has never in any way prevented me from discharging my duties as a minister, I now believe that I have no alternative than to step down from the Government.'
Mr Major replied: 'You have been an effective minister, and I am sorry that your talents will not now be available to the Government; I hope they may be used again at a future stage.'
Mr Yeo's job will be taken by Robert Atkins, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, who will be replaced by Michael Ancram, a junior Northern Ireland minister. He has played a key role in the Ulster peace initiative.
As Minister of State, Mr Yeo earnt pounds 28,175 and a reduced parliamentary salary of pounds 23,227. He will be paid pounds 30,854 as a backbencher.
A service marking the International Year of the Family was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields yesterday. Virginia Bottomley and her husband Peter were among Tory figures in a congregation addressed by John Patten, Secretary of State for Education.
Fall from grace, page 3
Leading article, page 17
Harriet Crawley, page 19
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