John Major declined to discuss Mr Yeo when asked how it fitted in with the Government's 'back to basics' theme, in an interview on BBC Radio 4. The Prime Minister said he 'was not going to get into the case of individual ministers'.
Mr Yeo, 48, who had an affair with Julia Stent, a 34-year-old solicitor and a London Conservative councillor, was back in England yesterday after a holiday in the Seychelles with his wife, Diane, and their two grown-up children. He is expected to return to work tomorrow.
The insistence by both Mr Major and Mr Yeo's immediate boss, John Gummer, that the issue is a personal one for the minister, is a conscious shift of approach since Mr Major's repeated and public expressions of support for the then Secretary of State for National Heritage, David Mellor, after his affair with the actress Antonia de Sancha.
But Westminster sources were insistent that the line did not imply any lack of backing for Mr Yeo - respected as a capable minister who was in line for Cabinet promotion - and indeed that the stance implied that his personal life had no bearing on his ability to do his duties. It was acknowledged, however, that party managers had not wanted Mr Major to tie his personal standing to Mr Yeo's future.
Friends of Mr Yeo said they were still optimistic that he would weather the storm. It was pointed out there was no acrimony between Mr Yeo's family and Ms Stent, and that he had made a clean breast of the affair.
Initial soundings of the Tory whips conducted on Mr Yeo's behalf also suggest strong support for him, despite the prediction by David Evans, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, his most outspoken critic and a member of the 1922 executive, that he would go.
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