Theresa May's Commons enforcer, North Yorkshire MP Julian Smith, has criticised the Government's approach to Brexit and attacked Cabinet members over the "worst example of ill-discipline in British political history".
In a highly unusual move, Skipton and Ripon MP Mr Smith, the Tory chief whip, spoke out to suggest Ministers had pursued the wrong strategy after the Prime Minister lost the Conservatives' Commons majority in the 2017 snap election.
Mr Smith said the result of the poll meant that Mrs May simply did not have enough MPs to back a harder version of Brexit.
The Chief Whip's comments were published by the BBC amid speculation that Parliament may force the PM to seek membership of a customs union with Brussels in order to pass her deal, which would mean ripping up one of her key red lines.
"The thing that people forget is that the Conservative Party went to get a majority in order to deliver Brexit (and) failed to get a majority," the chief whip said.
"The Government as a whole probably should just have been clearer on the consequences of that. The parliamentary arithmetic would mean that this would be inevitably a softer type of Brexit."
While the strategy was apparently misjudged, Mr Smith said he was "frustrated" by MPs who "don't see the light as clearly as I do".
A Conservative in Mr Smith's constituency today defended the Chief Whip, describing him as a "good man" who had been placed in "an impossible position".
Ron Bean, the chairman of the local Newby & Wathvale branch of the Conservatives, joined Mr Smith in attending the Annual General Meeting of the Skipton & Ripon Conservative Association at the Hopper Lane Hotel in Blubberhouses on Saturday.
Mr Bean, who runs a business near Ripon, said between 80 and 100 people turned up, "an astounding number", and the topic of discussion was "Brexit from start to finish".
He said: "It was unbelievable the attendance, we all wanted to know what was happening with Brexit. We were all extremely disappointed it didn't happen on the 29th.
"The Government are in an extremely difficult position and have been since the election in my opinion. No majority has been very difficult.
"75 per cent of the members in North Yorkshire said that Brexit was a shambles. I think on Saturday more than 75 per cent of them were extremely annoyed and wanted a no deal.
"My own personal view is that when Brexit was announced it was not the job of the Conservatives, it should have been a committee of people, it should not have been political.
Describing the angry reaction from local Conservatives at the meeting, Mr Bean said the MP "handled it very well".
He said: "I have known Julian for a long time. He is a good man and a good MP for Skipton and Ripon. He is in an impossible position like we all are. We have never seen anything like this.
"It is the end of an era in my opinion, we are going to see dramatic changes now. I think politics has failed and I don't think people will put up with it, but we haven't got an alternative.
"[Julian] is obviously stressed out. He has travelled thousands of miles and is trying to keep everyone happy. He is doing too much. No Chief Whip could have foreseen this and done anything about it. He is doing his best, he is hard-working and extremely helpful."
Mrs May's deal has now fallen three times in the Commons, with Tory MPs among those who voted against it on each occasion.
However Mr Smith highlighted that a lack of discipline extended all the way to the Cabinet, with ministers "sitting around the Cabinet table ... trying to destabilise her (Mrs May)".
"This is I think the worst example of ill-discipline in Cabinet in British political history," he said.
Responding to Mr Smith's comments, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's not clear to me that going softer is the way to command support."
She added: "If you look at the parliamentary arithmetic now, it's not clear that something like a customs union actually commands support."
Ms Truss said: "It's difficult to compare Cabinets through the ages. Of course, this is an incredibly testing time; it's a time when we have got a minority Government. And there are differences of opinion, I won't deny that."
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told the BBC the chief whip was "trying to make the facts fit the situation at a later date".