Newly-appointed education minister Andrea Jenkyns should “justify” her actions after making a rude gesture to a crowd outside Downing Street, the Tory Commons leader has said.
Mr Jenkyns was caught on camera giving the middle finger to protesters as she walked through the gates in the wake of Boris Johnson’s downfall on Thursday.
Senior Tory MP Mark Spencer, the Commons leader and former chief whip, said he does not believe the gesture was “the right thing to do at all”.
Asked if it is acceptable, he told BBC Breakfast: “No, I don’t think it is, to be honest. I don’t seek to condone that at all.”
Mr Spencer added: “Andrea will have to … justify that for herself. But I do understand emotions were running pretty high and they were pretty raw on that day. But I don’t think that was the right thing to do at all.”
Pressed on whether Mr Jenkyns should retain her new role, amid the ministerial merry-go-round of the past few days, the Commons leader said: “That’s not my decision.”
Ms Jenkyns was appointed to the role of parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Education on Friday in a reshuffle by Mr Johnson.
The footage, shared on social media on Thursday evening, appears to have been filmed shortly before Mr Johnson announced he was stepping down as leader.
Tory MP George Freeman, who quit as science minister this week, tweeted: “I’m sorry but this is appalling conduct for a Minister of the Crown.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson tweeted: “Ministers aren’t expected to be perfect. But is it really too much to ask that they don’t treat the public like this?”
Meanwhile, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee, has criticised Johnson loyalist Nadine Dorries’ comments about the leadership race.
The culture secretary, reportedly considering her own bid to keep Boris Johnson’s flame alive, claimed that the contest had unleashed the “hounds of hell”.
Sir Geoffrey told Times Radio: “I think it’s not helpful … However, we do this process we do want to unite the Conservative Party behind a candidate.”
On the timeframe for finding a leader, Sir Geoffrey confirmed that the candidates should be whittled down to two by summer recess on 21 July.
The 1922 Committee treasurer also said rules could be changed to thin down the crowded field and speed up the process.
“Clearly what we would want to do, and I think even the candidates would admit this is, is to eliminate some of those that are clearly not going to get enough support to get in the last two at a relatively early stage,” said Sir Geoffrey.
Mr Clifton-Brown said this could be done by upping the number of signatures from other Conservative lawmakers required to be nominated – and by increasing the threshold of votes candidates must receive to progress to the next round.
Tories are rushing to take sides in the race to become the new prime minister after ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak declared he has set his sights on the top job.
Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch became the fourth candidate to throw her hat into the ring – promising tax cuts and declaring her opposition “identity politics”.
Tom Tugendhat, a moderate from the “one nation” wing, and attorney general Suella Braverman have both picked up several endorsements after launching their campaigns.
Senior Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said earlier that leadership hopefuls who have “no hope” of winning should drop out now and help slim down the field, with up to 15 MPs announcing their candidates or preparing to launch a campaign.