Former Conservative party leader Michael Howard has called on Boris Johnson to resign following the disastrous double defeat at by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton.
The Tory peer – who has remained quiet on the question of the leadership – also suggested that cabinet ministers should consider moving against the PM if he clings on at No 10.
“The party and more importantly the country would be better off under new leadership,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on Friday.
In a call for action, the senior figure added: “Members of the cabinet should very carefully consider their positions.”
It follows Tory chair Oliver Dowden stinging resignation in the wake of the party’s crushing losses in Devon and west Yorkshire – saying he shared the feelings of supporters “distressed” by recent events.
In his letter to the PM Mr Dowden said: “We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.”
Mr Johnson was said to be surprised by Mr Dowden’s resignation and spoke to chancellor Rishi Sunak and chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris by phone soon afterwards, according to a Tory source.
Asked if he feared Mr Dowden was acting as an outrider for a possible leadership challenge from someone like Mr Sunak, the source said: “What do I know, but I’d be astonished if it was the chancellor.”
Mr Sunak later said he was “sad” over the resignation of Mr Dowden but added he was “determined to continue working to tackle the cost of living”.
Home secretary Priti Patel predicted that Mr Dowden would be the only minister to resign today, and said the PM told her he would be “cracking on with task” after the by-election defeats.
But backbench Tory MP Sir Roger Gale, who has repeatedly called for Mr Johnson to go, said further resignations were possible and claimed the party was “spoilt for choice” when it came to potential replacements.
Gavin Barwell, former No 10 chief of staff under Theresa May, urged MPs “to wake up before it is too late”, adding: “Finally someone in the cabinet says ‘Enough is enough’,” he said on Mr Dowden’s exit.