Theresa May is caught in a Tory civil war following a decision to consider disciplinary proceedings against Boris Johnson over his comments about Muslim women who wear the niqab.
Senior Conservative figures attacked the prime minister after the party confirmed that following a series of complaints, Mr Johnson is to face a full investigation.
Some Brexiteer MPs claimed the complaints were politically driven by those who disagree with Mr Johnson over the EU, while others warned that pursuing him would tear the party apart.
One backbencher told The Independent the handling of the affair by Ms May and other party leaders had been so poor that it has increased the chances of a leadership challenge over the summer.
It came as Mr Johnson was admonished by the ministerial watchdog for signing a contract with the Daily Telegraph days after leaving office, without seeking advice on whether it could lead to conflicts of interest.
The internal Tory process looking at Mr Johnson’s comparison of Muslim women in face coverings with “bank robbers” or “letter boxes” was automatically triggered on Thursday after party HQ received several complaints.
At least one is believed to have been lodged by Conservative Muslim Forum founder Lord Sheikh, who has called for the party to “remove the whip” from Mr Johnson, meaning he would no longer represent the Conservatives in parliament.
A party spokesman said only: “The code of conduct process is strictly confidential.”
The Independent understands that following the complaints, party chiefs must now decide whether the allegation is serious enough to establish an investigatory panel to ascertain whether Mr Johnson has broken the party’s code of conduct.
Normally, the panel of at least three people – with one member independent of the party – would be appointed by Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis. One member would also be selected by chairman of the backbench 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady. Read more
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