Former British prime minister John Major on Saturday attacked fellow Conservative Boris Johnson's handling of a corruption row, calling the conduct "shameful" and saying this could undermine his popularity.
Johnson was forced to make an embarrassing U-turn after he abandoned plans pushed through parliament to protect a lawmaker found to have broken lobbying rules.
Major, who was Britain's prime minister between 1990-1997, said this week's behaviour by the government had trashed the reputation of parliament and damaged the country's standing in the world.
"I think the way the government handled that was shameful, wrong and unworthy of this, or indeed any government," he said in a BBC interview.
"There's a general whiff of 'we are the masters now' about their behaviour," he said. "It has to stop and it has to stop soon."
Downing Street did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Johnson has not spoken publicly since withdrawing his backing for the lawmaker, but his education minister said on Friday the government made a mistake.
The row has raised fresh questions about Johnson's ethics. He has faced other accusations of wrongdoing, including plans to have party donors secretly contribute to a luxury renovation of his Downing Street flat.
Johnson has said the government followed the rules over the refurbishment.
A poll published by the Daily Mail on Saturday found 57 per cent of voters said they agreed with a statement made by the prime minister's adviser on ethical standards this week that Britain could "slip into becoming a corrupt country".
Major, whose own government faced accusations of sleaze, said Johnson's behaviour could harm the party in future elections.
"I have been a Conservative all my life and if I am concerned at how the government is behaving, I suspect lots of other people are as well," he said.
Major also warned that suspending parts of Northern Ireland’s Brexit deal would be dangerous and “colossally stupid”.
He said the move would damage relations with the European Union and United States and could further destabilise Northern Ireland.
Talks between the EU and UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol continue but Britain's negotiator David Frost has warned that the option of unilaterally abandoning parts of the agreement remained “very much on the table”.
To avoid a hard border, the protocol effectively keeps the North of Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Britain, which left the single market.
Frost and Johnson have argued that the EU’s interpretation of the deal has led to difficulties which have created the condition to justify the use of Article 16 of the protocol, effectively suspending elements of the arrangements.
Major, an opponent of Brexit, told the BBC : “I think it would be colossally stupid to do that. To use Article 16, to suspended parts of the protocol, would be absurd.
“This protocol is being denounced week after week by Lord Frost and the prime minister. Who negotiated the wretched protocol? Lord Frost and the prime minister.
“They negotiated it, they signed it, they now wish to break it.”
Frost met European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic on Friday but there was no breakthrough in efforts to resolve the row.
Further talks will take place in London on November 12th but Major said: “At the moment, we are negotiating over the protocol with all the subtlety of a brick.
“What is happening week after week is that Lord Frost goes into the negotiations, he gives away nothing, he takes something from the European Union, he goes away, blames them for the fact that nothing at all has happened.”
Major said he suspected Article 16 would be triggered after the United Nations Cop26 climate summit being hosted by the UK in Glasgow has concluded.
“This is a very difficult and dangerous road to go down. It’s not just a question of trade difficulties,” he warned.
“It could, we’ve seen what’s happened in Northern Ireland before, it could become much worse. They should be very, very careful about this.
“This is silly politics to placate a few extreme Brexiteers, and the price will be paid by businesses, people in Northern Ireland and the reputation of the United Kingdom.”
Major acknowledged that critics would brand him as a “bitter old Remoaner”.
He said: “I am old, and I’m most certainly a Remainer. But I’m not bitter, but I am disappointed and angry at the way the Government has behaved.”– Additional reporting: PA