Jacob Rees-Mogg has distanced himself from accusations of “dirty tricks” levelled by Nadine Dorries at Rishi Sunak’s Tory leadership campaign.
Culture secretary Dorries, a Boris Johnson loyalist, suggested “a stitch up” had taken place to allow Jeremy Hunt make into the first ballot of MPs in the Conservative leadership contest – making Sunak’s path to the top job easier.
Rees-Mogg and Dorries yesterday announced that they were backing Liz Truss’s bid to succeed Johnson in Number 10 after identifying her as the most likely candidate to defeat Sunak.
“Liz was always opposed to Rishi’s higher taxes, that again is proper Conservatism,” said Rees-Mogg.
Moments after it was announced eight contenders will be on the ballot paper when Tory MPs begin voting today to elect a successor to Johnson, Dorries took to Twitter to claim that one of Sunak’s supporters – ex-chief whip Gavin Williamson – had been trying to “syphon off” votes for Hunt.
“This is dirty tricks/a stitch up/dark arts. Take your pick. Team Rishi want the candidate they know they can definitely beat in the final two and that is Jeremy Hunt,” she tweeted.
But asked about the comments on Sky News, Rees-Mogg said there was “no evidence” to back up Dorries’s claims.
He said: “I have no idea whether that’s going on or not.
“What we need to do is to get two candidates to the final round in a way that the members of the Conservative Party can choose.
“I’m strongly in favour of the mandate coming from members of the Conservative Party. I’m sure no one would wish to stitch it up in advance and if they did I think it would be improper, but I don’t have any evidence that people are doing that.”
A source close to Sunak told HuffPost UK: “It’s totally untrue – just more anti-Rishi stuff rather than based in any facts. I think she is just upset about Boris.”
The claim was also denied by Hunt, who told LBC radio: “We are running completely independent campaigns.
“It’s a very dangerous game to play and so I think most people would be very wary before doing that sort of thing. I’m not saying it never happens.”
Meanwhile, Rees-Mogg has accused Sunak of “disloyalty” to Boris when he was chancellor.
Asked on Sky News if he would take a job in a Sunak cabinet, Rees-Mogg said: “No, of course I wouldn’t.
“I believe his behaviour towards Boris Johnson, his disloyalty, means that I could not possibly support him. He wouldn’t want me in his cabinet anyway.”