Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has claimed the “distraction” of the partygate scandal was partly to blame for two devastating by-elections defeats for the Conservatives.
The Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden resigned within hours of the results, with a swipe at what he described as “recent events” and saying that “someone must take responsibility”.
But Mr Raab tried to brush aside the affair which has plunged his party into chaos, describing it as one of a series of “distractions” which lost the party votes.
On a visit to Rwanda, Boris Johnson also pledged he would “keep going” despite the blow to his authority just weeks after nearly 150 of his own MPs voted to oust him from Downing Street.
In remarks likely to infuriate Tory MPs demanding the prime minister resign, Mr Raab also accused his party of “ill-discipline” over that confidence vote.
Mr Raab was drafted in to appear on broadcasters only at the eleventh hour after Mr Dowden’s dramatic resignation.
The former culture secretary had been publicly loyal to Mr Johnson amid the turmoil of recent weeks.
Mr Raab told the Today programme on BBC Radio : “My view is that the by-elections, both of them, were the result of the perfect storm of very difficult local scenarios, given the situations of the previously sitting Conservative MPs, plus the national headwinds (including)… a mid-term government, but also, frankly, the distractions that we’ve had.
“I think the prime minister put it well: we need to listen very carefully, we need to take that feedback.
“I think (with) Tiverton, the most striking thing is how many of our supporters didn’t come out. We need to spend the next two years absolutely relentlessly focused on delivering our plan, without those distractions and with a real calm focus on delivering.”