The Conservative party has collapsed into accusations of betrayal and treachery as the party’s first leadership contest in a decade gets underway.
Tensions are high after Boris Johnson sensationally dropped out of the race at the first hurdle following a shock intervention against his leadership from cabinet minister Michael Gove.
The abrupt end to the former Mayor of London’s campaign comes after an acrimonious EU referendum campaign during which he was perceived as waging a proxy war for the leadership against David Cameron.
In an extraordinary tirade, Michael Hesletine, a former cabinet minister, said Mr Johnson had caused chaos in the country only to back down at the last minute.
“I have never seen anything like it. He’s ripped the Tory party apart, he as created the greatest constitutional crisis in peacetime in my life,” he said during a visit to a housing policy conference in Manchester.
“He’s knocked billions off the value of the savings of British people. He’s like a general who marches his army to the sound of the guns and the moment he sees the battleground he abandons it.
“I have never seen anything like it and he must be answerable for the consequences. But the pain of it will be felt by all of us, and if it doesn’t get resolved shortly, by generations yet to come.”
Tensions were also short on Mr Johnson’s own side, however. Jake Berry, a Conservative MP in the inner circle of the former mayor’s leadership campaign, tweeted with reference to Mr Gove: “There is a very deep pit reserved in Hell for such as he.”
It follows accusations of betrayal by Mr Johnson’s father Stanley Johnson. Asked about Mr Gove's intervention, he quoted Caesar's supposed last words after he was stabbed by his former friend Brutus.
“'Et tu Brute' is my comment on that,” he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One. “I don't think he is called Brutus, but you never know.”
Mr Gove on Thursday afternoon again repeated accusations that Mr Johnson could not provide the “team captaincy” required to lead the Conservative party and the country.
Home Secretary Theresa May also took an apparent swipe at the former mayor this morning, writing: "Some need to be told that what the government does isn’t a game, it’s a serious business that has real consequences for people’s lives."
Mr Johnson's departure from the race leaves Ms May as the favourite to win the race. She launched her leadership campaign this morning.
The shock news comes after George Osborne, who was previously seen as the anointed successor to David Cameron, ruled himself out of the race following the EU referendum result.
Though Mr Johnson is popular amongst Conservative party activists, the party's internal electoral system allows MPs to pick which two candidates their members can vote between.
Other candidates to declare in the race so far include Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, former defence secretary Liam Fox, and Andrea Leadsom.
The leadership election was called after Mr Cameron announced his resignation in the aftermath of the EU referendum result.
The Prime Minister said it was right that a new Prime Minister should steer Britain's exit from the European Union and invoke article 50.
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