A row has broken out between potential Tory leadership rivals Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch after Mrs Badenoch accused the former home secretary of having a “very public” nervous breakdown.

As first reported by The Times, Mrs Badenoch used a shadow cabinet meeting to criticise Rishi Sunak, but also Mrs Braverman for making public attacks on the party during the election campaign.

Mrs Badenoch said it was a “shame” the discussion had been leaked and that there needed to be a “private space” for Conservatives to discuss their challenges.

Responding in a social media post, Mrs Braverman said: “I’d be interested in knowing whether Kemi thinks I’m having a “very public nervous breakdown,” adding the hashtag: “We don’t leak”.

During the shadow cabinet meeting, held on Tuesday, Mrs Badenoch said some of her colleagues were failing to grasp the “enormity” of the party’s general election defeat, which saw them slip to their lowest ever number of MPs.

She was also critical of Mr Sunak, attacking his decision to hold the election in July without consulting cabinet ministers and for leaving D-Day commemorations early.

After her comments were leaked, Mrs Badenoch appeared to defend making the criticism.

“In government, we had too much nodding along in the room and arguments outside it,” she said in a post on social media.

“That culture needs to change. We need to be honest with one another in private, and united in the direction we take afterwards.”

Suella Braverman hit back in a further social media message, saying: “Kemi, and the rest of the cabinet, should not have nodded along, as they and Rishi took the party to disaster.

“The refusal to take responsibility is at the root of our problem.

“It was not someone else’s fault.”

So far no-one has publicly declared that they’re going to run to replace Mr Sunak, who has said he will carry on as leader as long as the party wants him to.

Tory MPs are keeping tight-lipped about who they are likely to support.

But any hope that the contest will unify the party will have been dashed with the very public spat between Mrs Braverman and Mrs Badenoch.

A shadow Cabinet minister who was present at Tuesday’s meeting where Mrs Badenoch criticised Mr Sunak, said: “We all know what Kemi is doing.”

Another said at least one colleague has told her privately that she needs to be “less abrasive” if she wants to win over colleagues.

Others have been irritated by Mrs Braverman’s actions.

She wrote an article on the eve of the general election which was highly critical of Mr Sunak.

A speech earlier this week has also riled some Conservatives including Ben Houchen the mayor of Teesside.

He told Times Radio: “If the Conservative party decides to go down the route of somebody like Suella Braverman, then we can absolutely see ourselves in opposition for generations to come.”

While no timetable has been set out for the leadership contest there seems to be a growing consensus among MPs that a longer process would be better for the party.

One former Cabinet minister said they’d like the party conference in October to be a chance for members to assess the merits of each candidate.

Next week, Conservative MPs will vote on which of their colleagues should sit on the party board – the group that will decide the rules for the leadership race.

Voting for party board membership had taken place on Wednesday but is being re-run after one of the candidates was left off the ballot paper.