Home Secretary Sajid Javid has publicly rebuked Boris Johnson over his use of language in two controversial newspaper columns.
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Javid criticised the former foreign secretary after he wrote in the Mail On Sunday that Theresa May had put the UK constitution in a “suicide vest” and handed the detonator to Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
Javid said it was clear Johnson held different opinions to the PM on Brexit.
“I think there are much better ways to articulate your differences,” he added.
“It’s a reminder for all of us in public policy, whichever party we represent, to use measured language because I think that’s what the public want to see.”
His comments were echoed by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire, who told Sky’s Sophy Ridge he thought Johnson had used the wrong “tone” in the article.
“I think he is wrong on this – I think the tone that he has used isn’t right and I think that we just need to be very focused on actually moving forward with the Chequers plan,” he added.
The intervention – regarded by some as a ‘dead cat’ strategy to distract from ructions in the Uxbridge MP’s private life – has caused deep divisions within the Conservative Party, with one MP telling him to “grow up”.
Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, who served under Johnson before he quit the Cabinet, said he was “stunned” by his language.
“There is no justification for such an outrageous, inappropriate and hurtful analogy,” he added.
“If we don’t stop this extraordinary use of language over Brexit, our country might never heal.”
Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health select committee, accused Brexiteers of undermining the prime minister and said she would consider leaving the Tory party if Johnson became leader.
“Personally I hope that won’t happen, I don’t think he is fit to lead the country,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.
“Would I stay? I very much doubt it but we are not in that position at the moment and I hope we can avoid it.”
But fellow Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said May was responsible for her leadership difficulties.
Asked if Johnson had put a bomb under her leadership, Bridgen said: “I think that Theresa May did that herself when she put forward the Chequers proposals without consulting widely prior to that.”
Brexit supporter Nadine Dorries also defended Johnson. She said: “Don’t underestimate the vitriol that’ll be directed towards Boris today.
“He delivered the leave vote, remainers and wannabe future PMs hate him.”
She said opponents were “terrified of his popular appeal” and if Johnson became leader and prime minister he would deliver a “clean and prosperous” Brexit.
The former London Mayor also caused controversy last month, when he claimed Muslim women who wear a burka look like “letter boxes” and bank robbers in a column for the Telegraph.
Both Theresa May and Tory chairman Brandon Lewis called for him to apologise for the remarks which “clearly caused offence”.
Asked on Sunday if he felt Johnson was Islamophobic, Javid said: “Absolutely not, not in the slightest. He loves all of Britain’s communities, wherever they come from.”