Liz Truss has said that she would vote to shut down an investigation into whether Boris Johnson lied to parliament.
The outgoing prime minister is facing a probe by the Privileges Committee over what he said in the Commons about his lockdown partying and lawbreaking.
Asked during a hustings in Darlington whether she would vote to end the inquiry by MPs on the standards committee, frontrunner to replace Mr Johnson said: “Yes – but there isn’t a vote and it’s going ahead.”
Ms Truss’s comments will be seen as an attempt to curry favour with Tory grandees, who have been trying to pick holes in the investigation to get their friend off the hook.
Allies of Mr Johnson last month branded the probe a “Kangaroo court”, in attacks on the disciplinary process reminiscent of those which elevated the Owen Paterson corruption affair to a political crisis.
In that instance Tory MPs used their parliamentary majority to stop the suspension of their colleague Mr Paterson after he was found to have breached lobbying rules.
The move cause outrage and was seen as MPs putting their own above the law, when Mr Paterson was found to have “repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the house into disrepute”.
Similarly, Tory MPs are now angry that the inquiry will rely on what they call “hearsay evidence” and that it is being chaired by Labour MP Harriet Harman.
This is despite the committee having a Tory majority and the inquiry being assisted by a former Lord Justice of Appeal.
In June, before the collapse of Mr Johnson’s government, Ms Truss previously said she “implicitly” trusts the privileges committee to make the right decision.
Sue Gray’s inquiry on parties in Downing Street and Whitehall found that there were “failures of leadership and judgment in Number 10”.
Mr Johnson was given a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police for being present at a birthday party; there is also an ongoing legal challenge to decisions not to issue him with fines for other events he was present at.