Boris Johnson’s allies fear Jeremy Hunt will ‘stitch him up’ in leadership contest

Boris Johnson’s allies claim Jeremy Hunt will ‘stitch up’ former foreign secretary and other Brexiteer candidates in any Tory leadership contest

  • Boris Johnson’s allies fear Jeremy Hunt will form an alliance with Matt Hancock
  • Hancock is willing to accept the treasury if he comes second to Hunt
  • Sajid Javid has lost ground after the knife crime row and his ill-timed holiday

Tory MPs backing Boris Johnson for the party leadership fear the contest will be ‘stitched up’ to keep him – and other Brexiteer candidates – off the final ballot paper, The Mail on Sunday understands.

Mr Johnson’s allies accuse Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt of forming a ‘secret alliance’ with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, under which they would share out their supporters to ensure the pair finished in the first two places.

Under the party’s leadership election rules, MPs vote to select the final two candidates, who are then voted on by party members.

Tory MPs backing Boris Johnson to be the next prime minister fear he may be stitched up

While Tory MPs are split fairly evenly into Remain and Brexit voters, the party membership is dominated by Brexit supporters.

Although Mr Hunt voted Remain and once even called for a second referendum, he has courted the Brexiteer wing of the party by saying that the UK should not fear a No Deal and comparing the EU to Soviet Russia.

Mr Hancock, who also supported Remain, would expect to come second to Mr Hunt – but would accept the Treasury as his prize. He has gained ground at the expense of Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who is regarded as ‘accident prone’ following rows over knife crime and his ill-timed safari holiday during the migrant crisis in the Channel.

Brexiteers point the finger at former Chancellor George Osborne, who they claim has switched his backing from former protégé Javid to Hancock.

The decision by Department for Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd not to run has also freed up pro-Remain MPs, who are swinging behind Hancock.

The move would also freeze out former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who is vying with Mr Johnson for the party’s Brexiteer vote. A pro-Boris MP said: ‘There would be uproar if Tory members – the vast majority of whom voted for Brexit – did not have a proper Brexiteer to choose from. So many members do not trust Jeremy Hunt on this issue. There would be riots in the shires if this happened.’

The four candidates with functioning campaign teams already in place are Mr Johnson, Mr Hunt, Mr Raab and Mr Javid. Rudd herself is expected to back either Johnson or Michael Gove.

Mr Johnson's allies believe Jeremy Hunt has formed an alliance with Matt Hancock to ensure they take the top two spots

Mr Johnson’s allies believe Jeremy Hunt has formed an alliance with Matt Hancock to ensure they take the top two spots

Other potential candidates include Liz Truss, the increasingly confident and outspoken chief secretary to the Treasury, fast-rising MP Tom Tugendhat and former chief whip Mark Harper.

Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, who had been planning to run, is now expected to form a joint ticket with Mr Hunt.

It comes as this newspaper can reveal that the powerful Tory backbench 1922 Committee has begun privately preparing the leadership election to replace Theresa May.

The committee held a secret meeting on Wednesday to update and confirm the official rules for a formal contest to replace the Prime Minister.

‘It could happen at any moment and the men in grey suits will be ready for that moment,’ one member of the 1922 Executive told The Mail on Sunday.

Party insiders said it would be ‘sub optimal’ to hold the contest at any time other than this summer, as the long break from the Commons would give the candidates the chance to get out of Westminster and meet party members around the country.

However, without pressure from the Cabinet, there is no formal way for the PM to be disposed until December after Theresa May survived a bid to oust her last year.

The MoS revealed last week that allies of Mrs May had discussed whether she would have to offer to resign in order for her deal to successfully pass the Commons.

Even if she survives in the short term, she is widely expected to step down before the party’s autumn conference.