SOUTH West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt has described the prime minister Boris Johnson’s Covid law-breaking as “shocking and disappointing” – but added now is the “wrong time” for a leadership contest.

Mr Johnson repeatedly apologised in the House of Commons earlier this week after receiving a Fixed Penalty Notice during the Easter Recess, having been found guilty of attending a birthday party in Downing Street in breach of Covid restrictions in 2020.

But the prime minister faced fury from all sides in parliament, as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called his apology “a joke” and MPs from all parties criticised his behaviour.

On Thursday it was confirmed Mr Johnson will face a Commons inquiry over whether he lied to parliament after Downing Street withdrew an attempt to force Conservative MPs to delay the new ‘Partygate’ investigation.

Commenting on Partygate in his weekly constituency newsletter on Thursday, Mr Hunt joined those criticising his former Conservative leadership rival, but stopped short of demanding that Mr Johnson resign – suggesting that Vladimir Putin would be happy to see a leadership contest in the UK.

Mr Hunt said: “Like many of you who have contacted me about this, I think it is shocking and disappointing that a prime minister has been fined for breaking laws he himself put in place during the pandemic and I cannot defend what happened.

“We are not at the end of the legal or civil service processes – more fines may be issued and Sue Gray has yet to publish her report.

“Another process will start now following today’s vote in the House of Commons which will lead to a judgement by a committee of MPs as to whether parliament was lied to.

“I would not have supported any move to delay such a report had we been asked to, but in the end we were not.

“However I now think there are two reasons why we now need to wait until the end of all these processes before making a final judgement: firstly for those concerned about the rule of law, due process matters and it has not yet completed its course.

“And secondly, with my former Foreign Secretary hat on, I do believe right now would be the wrong time to change our Prime Minister.

“Yes we have changed wartime leaders before such as Chamberlain and Churchill. But one was after the catastrophic failure to prevent a war through appeasement and the other following a general election.

“In this situation we only have to ask ourselves ‘would Vladimir Putin be happy to see a two month leadership contest in Britain?’ to understand that the removal of the West’s most determined leader right now would not be sensible.”