The prime minister texted Tories last week telling them to “form a square around the prittster”, with No.10 press secretary Allegra Stratton confirming that Johnson wanted MPs to support the home secretary on what was “a testing day for her” on Friday.
Stratton briefed reporters after Johnson overruled independent advice that Patel had breached the ministerial code by “shouting and swearing” at Home Office staff, sparking the resignation of the PM’s adviser on ministerial interests Sir Alex Allan.
Senior Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith and Patel’s parliamentary aides at the Home Office were also reportedly attempting to coordinate “supportive tweets” for Patel on Friday.
But by Friday evening, fewer than 25% of Tory MPs on Twitter posted in support of Patel, Liberal Democrat analysis suggests.
By Sunday lunchtime, just five of the 21 other cabinet ministers with Twitter accounts had posted in support of Patel.
They were Liz Truss, Therese Coffey, Amanda Milling, Ben Wallace.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who attends cabinet as Commons leader, managed to tweet in support of Patel as well as anti-bullying week.
Other ministers, including Johnson and Rishi Sunak did defend Patel in broadcast interviews.
But Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said the “dire” lack of backing for Patel online showed Johnson has “lost the trust of his backbenchers”.
It came as the Sunday Times reported that Johnson had held discussions about replacing Patel as home secretary in a new year cabinet reshuffle.
Carmichael told HuffPost UK: “This is bad for the prime minister - not only has he lost an adviser and seemingly subverted the ministerial code, when he called on colleagues to support Patel the vast majority of colleagues ignored him.
“Johnson has lost the trust of his backbenchers who are fed up being sent over the top by a general who sounds a retreat when they are out in no man’s land.
“The prime minister allegedly loathes bullying - well this week we’ve seen the anti-bullying version of Barnard Castle from No.10.
“The support for Patel in her party is dire - our research show the number of MPs supporting her is tiny.
“Many MPs from all parties spend a lot of time going round schools on anti-bullying campaigns, how can they do that with a straight face if they throw their support behind the home secretary?”
Hitting back, one Tory source said: “It was a lot more MPs than those who backed Ed Davey’s leadership bid.”