Rishi Sunak defended piling praise on Dominic Raab, who quit as justice secretary last month after a bullying inquiry.
Mr Raab resigned as deputy prime minister after a probe found that he had acted in an intimidating and aggressive way with officials in behaviour that could have amounted to bullying.
In a letter to the ex-deputy prime minister following his resignation, Mr Sunak had offered warm words and singled out the Tory MP’s “achievements” while in office.
“Your resignation should not make us forget your record of delivery in both this Government and previous administrations.
“These achievements should make you extremely proud,” Mr Sunak told him.
The Prime Minister, who appeared on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 programme ahead of the local elections on Thursday, suggested that, despite the outcome of the probe, he could “respect” the record of Mr Raab.
He said: “Because whilst he was in government, Dominic Raab achieved things that made a difference to this country.
“I think people will remember when the previous prime minister Boris Johnson was very ill with Covid, it was Dominic Raab who stepped into his shoes.
“It was an incredibly uncertain time and and Dominic Raab provided stable leadership at that time and acted in a very collegiate way.”
“And that was something that I think most people agree is a good thing.
“And that’s something that Dominic did as well as make sure that we put in place plans to go after those criminals who are harming our women and girls.”
But pressed on why he would praise him, Mr Sunak said it was “because I can absolutely respect his record”.
“He did say if the independent report found that he had acted in that way that he would resign.
“He was good to his word and resigned,” the Prime Minister said.