Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng insisted it was “reasonable” for the Prime Minister to take a break, after he reportedly flew to Marbella to holiday in a private villa on the Costa del Sol.
Mr Kwarteng said he remains in “regular WhatsApp contact” with the Prime Minister, who he noted has recently lost his mother.
Downing Street did not deny reports Mr Johnson had travelled to Spain, but declined to say whether the Prime Minister was instead working at No 10 or in Chequers, as is commonplace.
Mr Johnson travelled with pregnant wife Carrie and their year-old son Wilf following the Conservative Party conference last week, according to the Mail on Sunday.
The Business Secretary said: “I believe he has gone away. I’m not sure where he’s gone.
“But what I would say is I am in regular contact with him. He’s also had a year-and-a-half in which he’s almost lost his life to Covid, his mother passed away very sadly two or three weeks ago and he may have decided to take a short break.
“I think that’s something reasonable.
“I’m in regular WhatsApp contact with him, I spoke to him only a few days ago. I’m not sure when he’s supposed to have left the country.”
Labour called for “urgent answers on who exactly is running the show” after Mr Kwarteng’s claims he was in talks with the Treasury over support for firms struggling during the energy crisis were denied by the Treasury.
Shadow chief secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “In the teeth of a crisis of its own making, the Government has put its out of office on.
“The Prime Minister has gone on holiday, no one knows where the Chancellor is, and this morning we understand the Business Secretary has entered the realms of fantasy.”
Holidays have at various times caused difficulties for Mr Johnson’s Government.
Dominic Raab was demoted from his role as foreign secretary after criticism for staying on vacation in Crete while the Taliban marched back to power in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister himself also endured months of scrutiny after a trip to the Caribbean island of Mustique in 2019.
He was ultimately cleared of breaking the MPs’ code of conduct after an investigation into whether he adequately registered £15,000 worth of accommodation paid for by a Tory donor.
Mr Kwarteng had indicated on Sunday that struggling manufacturers and energy firms will not get much more support but said he is working closely with Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help industry.
However, a senior Treasury source insisted that no such talks have taken place despite firms pleading for help to prevent further collapses as wholesale gas prices spiral.
Mr Kwarteng said he is certain that the lights will stay on in the UK this winter as businesses warned they may have to reduce working hours to sustain themselves and the Energy UK industry body warned that more suppliers will collapse.
The minister guaranteed he will keep the energy price cap for consumers in place throughout the winter but said he will not “bail out failing energy suppliers”.
Asked if he has approached the Treasury about subsidies, he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “No, I haven’t. We’ve already got subsidies in place and it’s very clear that a lot of those are working.”
Mr Kwarteng said he could not yet determine whether a price cap will be introduced for businesses but added that there have been discussions over “what the nature of that support might be”.
He added that “of course I’m speaking to Government colleagues, particularly in the Treasury, to try and see a way through this”.
Mr Kwarteng acknowledged it is a “critical situation” but denied he has asked for billions of pounds worth of support when asked whether he is considering a price cap for businesses or a winter package.
He told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I’ve not asked for billions, we’ve got existing schemes. I’m working very closely with Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to get us through this situation.”
But it was heavily disputed whether the Chancellor or his department have been involved in any talks.
A senior Treasury source bluntly told PA: “The Treasury has not been involved in talks.”
UK Steel director general Gareth Stace warned the Government that a failure to act “may result in long-term damage to the future of the steel industry”.
“Heading into the winter months, increasing prices could result in extended shutdowns, damage to equipment, loss of export opportunities and market share at home, and a loss of talent and employment,” he added.
Energy UK chief executive Emma Pinchbeck warned that “exposed” businesses such as energy-intensive users and retailers will be the worst hit.
“We are expecting more retailers to go out of business this winter,” she told Philips.
“The issue is how many are failing at once and whether or not our mechanisms, which are in place to look after customers when that happens, are up for that many failures in one go.”
Pressed on whether he is absolutely sure the lights will stay on this winter, the Business Secretary replied: “Yes, I am.”Mr Kwarteng also suggested wrapping up warmer this winter could help people amid the energy crisis.
Asked if he is advising people to wear another woolly jumper and pair of socks, he told Sky News: “It’s up to people – it’s amazing how different people’s cold thresholds can be very different.
“Some people feel comfortable wrapped up in lots of different clothes, others wear relatively little – I think people should be sensible. I think people should do what they feel comfortable with.”