NADINE Dorries has admitted that the Tory government’s pandemic preparedness was “found wanting and inadequate” while attempting to launch an attack on rebels opposed to Boris Johnson’s leadership.

The Culture Secretary hit out at “duplicitous” Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and challenger to Johnson during the 2019 leadership election, who is now planning to vote against the Prime Minister in the no-confidence ballot.

Hunt, one of the top picks to run for the leadership should Johnson be ousted by his colleagues, had said he’d be “voting for change”.

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Johnson loyalist Dorries jumped at the chance to call out the former minister – and in the process admitted that the Government hadn’t been prepared for Covid to hit.

The UK Government has long defended its handling of the pandemic, though many experts argued ministers were too slow to act in 2020.

Dorries claimed Hunt had told her he expected the Government to collapse on the back of Brexit “and you would swoop in”.

“If you had been leader you’d have handed the keys of No 10 to [Jeremy)] Corbyn," she told the backbencher.

“You’ve been wrong about almost everything, you are wrong again now.”

She said that while she served as health minister Hunt, whose wife is Chinese, had recommended following that country’s example in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, with cases “removed from their homes and placed into isolation hotels for two weeks”.

Claiming Hunt’s handling of the pandemic would “have been a disaster”, Dorries told the MP: “Your pandemic preparation during six years as health secretary was found wanting and inadequate. Your duplicity right now in destabilising the party and country to serve your own personal ambition, more so.”

The minister’s admission was quickly noted by opposition politicians.

“This is a revealing admission and damning indictment of the Conservatives’ pandemic preparedness,” responded Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting.

“They’re not fit to govern.”

“We now have Tory cabinet ministers stating on the record how un-prepared the Government was for the pandemic,” added his Labour colleague Feryal Clark.

“Not sure ‘our government didn’t properly prepare for the pandemic’ is a great tactic but here we are!” said journalist Richard Chambers.

The BBC's political editor, Chris Mason, suggested Dorries's intervention had made MPs angrier.

"I'm hearing the thread below from the Culture Secretary about Jeremy Hunt has incensed some MPs and is tempting some to vote against the Prime Minister -- because they feel it comes with his endorsement," he explained.

"Others insisting it's not changing any minds, just angering those already angry a bit more."

On Monday morning, dozens of Conservative MPs and ministers issued public declarations of support for Johnson ahead of the vote on the future of his leadership.

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In what appeared to be a co-ordinated show of support, Cabinet ministers – including potential leadership contenders Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and Ben Wallace – declared their backing for Mr Johnson on social media.

Backbench Tories also joined in, with some tweeting a document drawn up by the Prime Minister’s allies showing his achievements and setting out reasons to keep him in place.

By mid-morning the public declarations of support had eclipsed the 54 MPs required to trigger the confidence vote.