Some members of the cabinet have reportedly hatched a plan in an effort to ensure that Boris Johnson is the only candidate on the ballot paper when party members vote for their new leader.
According to the Daily Telegraph, some senior members of the cabinet want to avoid a “blue on blue” battle for the next party leader, which could leave the candidates open to attacks from each other, as well as from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The plan, which was allegedly hatched in the whip’s office, is for the remaining candidates to drop out of the campaign next week and leave Mr Johnson, the leadership favourite, as the only one remaining.
A confirmatory ballot would still be carried out to the party’s 160,000 members, to officially hand Mr Johnson the keys to number 10.
However, the move is controversial.
© Sky News Screen Grab Mr Johnson has a big lead over his rivalsTheresa May was left unopposed before the membership vote in 2016, when Andrea Leadsom, who was the her last remaining rival, dropped out of the race, meaning Mrs May was appointed leader by default.
The alleged plot comes after Mr Johnson said on Friday that he thinks voters are frustrated by senior Tories arguing in public, adding he does not want to see any more of it.
Candidate Rory Stewart, who only mustered 19 votes in Thursday’s vote, criticised the plan on Twitter, saying: “Please write to your MP if you think this is not a good idea and please RT [retweet] if you think anyone else might think this is not a good idea…”
© Other Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Sajid javid, Rory Stewart are in
Mr Johnson has built an enviable lead over his leadership rivals.
The former foreign secretary won 114 votes from his parliamentary peers on Thursday, with his nearest rival the current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, only securing 43.
The next round of voting is on Tuesday next week, where the field of candidates will be trimmed down even further.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock dropped out of the running on Friday, after securing only 20 votes in the first ballot.
Meanwhile, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has attacked Mr Johnson in the Daily Telegraph, saying that the party did not need a leader who he feels is seen as part of the “privileged elite”.
© PA Wire/PA Images Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab launches his campaign in central London to become leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and Prime Minister. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
He said: “When you campaign in marginal seats, who can reach out and unite the working class vote and the middle-class vote?
“Are we going to be in a better position to do that with a candidate who isn’t so easily caricatured as being from the privileged elite, with the son of a refugee, a grammar school boy who is offering tax cuts to most of those people on £15,000 as opposed to people on £50,000 and above?”
Mr Raab also said that Mr Johnson’s reluctance to take part in the proposed TV debates showed he may not have the “mettle” to take on the country’s top job, saying: “If you’re not up for the TV debates and the test that provides, people will argue it’s a barometer for what would happen if you get the job.”
© Thomson Reuters Conservative Party leadership candidate Boris Johnson leaves his home in London, Britain June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
He added: “If you can’t take the heat of the TV studios, what chance of taking the heat of the negotiating chamber in Brussels?”
Mr Johnson appeared to bow to increasing pressure to make a similar commitment by his rivals, pledging on Friday to participate in the BBC debate, scheduled for next Tuesday evening.
However, he will not take part in Channel 4’s debate this Sunday.