British Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said on Sunday it was not at all inevitable that Boris Johnson would have to stand down, as he gave the prime minister his backing over a row about his conduct.

Johnson has been engulfed in a state of crisis for around three months, with an increasing number of lawmakers in his own party saying he should quit following lockdown parties held at his residence during the pandemic.

Charles Walker, a previously loyal senior Conservative lawmaker, told the Observer newspaper it was now “inevitable” that his party would remove Johnson from office.

“I don’t see what he’s seeing,” Kwarteng told Sky News on Sunday.

Johnson has been fighting to save his job for weeks, saying he will learn from recent mistakes and move on.

But on Monday when he went to the House of Commons to apologise for lockdown parties that have angered the country, he also falsely accused the leader of the opposition of failing to prosecute a now dead child sex abuser.

That not only appalled members of his own party but it led to the resignation of one of his most senior aides, and has led to reports that it split his cabinet of senior ministers, after the finance minister Rishi Sunak said pointedly that he would not have made such a remark.

Kwarteng, asked about the comment, said Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, had apologised when he was director of public prosecutions for the organisation’s failure to prosecute paedophile Jimmy Savile, a television celebrity. Starmer had not been involved in the decision however.

“The fact that he apologised suggests that he does, at some level, bear some responsibility,” Kwarteng said. “I’m not saying that he had personal blame, he didn’t, we were very clear about that.

“The prime minister clarified that position as well. But I think in the cut and thrust of debate, when people are talking about leadership and accountability, bringing up something that Sir Keir himself apologised for, seems reasonable.”