Boris Johnson loyalist Jacob Rees-Mogg has left his government role as business secretary after Rishi Sunak became prime minister.
The senior figure said on Tuesday that he had changed his mind on Mr Sunak being a “socialist” in an apparent bid to keep a ministerial job.
But a source close to Mr Rees-Mogg said he knew he was not wanted. “He knows he was very close to the previous two regimes and it didn’t seem likely he was going to be appointed in the new cabinet. He’s happy to support the prime minister from the backbenches.”
The Liz Truss backer had said in July that he would “of course” refuse to serve in a Sunak government – describing him as a “socialist chancellor”.
But on Tuesday – as Mr Sunak entered No 10 as prime minister to finalise his cabinet – Mr Rees-Mogg suggested he would be willing to accept a ministerial position if wanted.
Asked about his previous comments about the new PM, he told The Telegraph: “That was said in the run up to the leadership campaign, under very different circumstances. The leader of the Conservative party is clearly not a socialist.”
Asked about a job, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I will do whatever he wants me to do. I don’t expect him to do anything, because I haven’t been one of his most ardent supporters, but the time has come to support the Tory party and I don’t mind what he decides to do.”
The outgoing business secretary said he had personally offered his support to Mr Sunak on Monday and the new Tory leader had said: “Thank you.”
Justice secretary Brandon Lewis also left government on Tuesday, sharing a resignation letter to Mr Sunak in which he said the new PM would have “my support from the backbenches”.
In an unsurprising development, Wendy Morton is out as Tory chief whip – also tweeting that she was “heading for the backbenches”.
She was partly blamed for the fiasco over the fracking vote in the Commons last Wednesday, when she reportedly quit only for No 10 to insist she remained in the post hours later.
Mr Sunak had been urged to keep high-profile Johnson supporters like Mr Rees-Mogg as part of a “government of all the talents” designed to bring an end to Tory bloodletting.
One ex-cabinet minister told The Independent: “He should keep in the cabinet people like Rees-Mogg and other Johnson supporters, to show that he is appointing people from all wings of the party. That he is doing the opposite of what Truss did.”
The new PM is expected to keep Jeremy Hunt as chancellor and stick to the 31 October date for the government’s debt reduction plan, as he prepares to announce his first cabinet.
He is expected to include some high-profile Truss and Johnson supporters in cabinet – with right-wingers Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch tipped for roles, along with top allies such as Oliver Dowden and Dominic Raab.
Some Johnson loyalists have questioned Mr Sunak’s mandate to lead. Nadine Dorries warned that “all hell will break lose” after he enters No 10 without a vote from the grassroots or the public.
But Mr Rees-Mogg said the dire Tory poll numbers meant unity was now required.
“If it goes on like this, we will find that it is very difficult to win elections, and therefore we have to support Rishi Sunak,” he said on Tuesday. “We have to do everything we can to help make his prime ministership as successful as it can be in the interest of the country.”
In his first remarks to the nation outside No 10, Mr Sunak claimed the mandate from the Tories’ 2019 election win belongs to the party rather than being the “sole property” of Mr Johnson.
“I know [Mr Johnson] would agree that the mandate my party earned in 2019 is not the sole property of any one individual. It is mandate that belongs to and unites all of us,” he said.
Mr Johnson offered his congratulations to Mr Sunak after his arrival back from Buckingham Palace, after complaining on Sunday that his ex-chancellor would not “come together in the national interest” with him.
Keir Starmer again called for a general election after congratulating Rishi Sunak on becoming prime minister – saying: “The public needs a fresh start and a say on Britain’s future.”
Asked if Mr Sunak was right to claim a mandate from the Tories’ 2019 election win, Labour’s chair Anneliese Dodds told the BBC: “That’s wrong.”
She added: “Rishi Sunak has been part of 12 years of Conservative failures. He doesn’t have a mandate – we need a fresh start and a general election … He is not a new start. He has presided over that economic failure.”
Markets remained largely unmoved by the entrance of Mr Sunak into No 10. The FTSE 100 had already been trading down before Mr Sunak took the top job.
It was down around 0.5 per cent shortly after midday. But the pound was around 0.4 cents more expensive, trading up around 0.3 per cent against the dollar to a little over 1.13.