Tory leadership rivals let rip at Boris Johnson today for snubbing the first TV debate – as he faces being empty chaired.
Other hopefuls slammed the front runner for his ‘submarine’ campaign strategy, jibing that no-one ‘knows what he believes’.
His nearest challenger Jeremy Hunt also made a pitch for support from the Tory Remain wing, saying he would exhaust all options before contemplating No Deal.
‘The difference between me and Boris is I would try for a deal,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
The battle for the keys to No10 is turning nasty as contenders desperately struggle to overhaul Mr Johnson’s commanding lead.
Mr Johnson was criticised yesterday for bustling into a hustings event in London without taking questions from journalists – and sneaking out the back door afterwards.
By contrast his rivals stopped to talk to reporters. All six have agreed to take part in the Channel 4 show this evening – but Mr Johnson has made clear he will stay away.
The broadcaster has said it will ’empty chair’ him if he does not turn up,
A clearly infuriated Rory Stewart stepped up his attack on former foreign secretary Boris Johnson on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show this morning
Mr Johnson fuelled rumours of an early ballot by telling a hustings event he would ‘get Brexit done and get ready for an election. He is pictured arriving at the event in London yesterday
His nearest challenger Jeremy Hunt also made a pitch today for support from the Tory Remain wing, saying he would exhaust all options before contemplating No Deal
Dominic Raab – the othe Brexiteer left in the contest – warned on Sky News today that the Tories will be finished unless the UK is out of the EU by the October 31
But Mr Johnson has suggested he will only join in a BBC showdown on Tuesday, after the next round of voting by MPs.
As the Tory leadership combat moved into a frenetic new phase:
- Mr Johnson is facing a backlash after making clear he will snub a Channel 4 debate between Tory leadership candidates tonight – although he will take part in a BBC show on Tuesday;
- Former chancellor Ken Clarke said he was ready to vote no confidence in any ‘idiot’ who made a bid to take the UK out of the EU without approval from Parliament;
- Allies of Theresa May have suggested once she quits No10 she will join forces with pro-Remain ministers such as Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd to avoid No Deal;
- Senior Eurosceptics insisted the Conservatives would be ‘over’ and they would defect to the Brexit Party unless the leadership front runner follows through on his vow to leave by Halloween;
- Tory rival Dominic Raab hit out at would-be PMs who are going ‘weak at the knees’ about pushing through Brexit – warning the party will be ‘toast’ unless it happens by October;
- Nigel Farage sought to exploit Tory splits by warning Mr Johnson ‘will not deliver on his promises’, adding: ‘Tory defectors would be welcome in the Brexit Party’.
A clearly infuriated Mr Stewart stepped up his attack on the former foreign secretary on the Marr Show this morning.
‘How is Boris going to deliver Brexit? How?’ the Aid Secretary said.
‘I don’t even know what he believes. He won’t talk to me, he won’t talk to you, he won’t talk to the public.
‘We want to know what he believes. We want him to sit at this debate tonight and tell us.’
Mr Stewart also tried to drawn a line under confusion over whether he would serve in the Cabinet if Mr Johnson becomes leader.
‘I wouldn’t serve in a Boris Cabinet,’ he said.
Mr Johnson has put the Tories in an election war footing – as a poll today found voters believe he can win back Eurosceptics and defeat Corbyn.
The leadership favourite fuelled rumours of an early ballot by telling a hustings event he would ‘get Brexit done and get ready for an election’.
The dramatic vow yesterday came as a survey found 47 per cent of the public think he can see off Labour and Nigel Farage – while just 22 per cent think he would lose.
His ratings are way ahead of other leadership contenders such as Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove.
However, in a worrying sign for Mr Johnson’s supporters, nearly six in 10 said he was not the kind of man they would buy a used car from.
The scale of the challenge he faces was also underlined with the YouGov research showing that overall the Brexit Party is still leading on 24 per cent – three points ahead of both the Conservatives and Labour.
Theresa May (pictured at church in Maidenhead with husband Philip today) is said to have backed Rory Stewart in the first round of the Tory leadership battle
Asked in the youGov poll for the Sunday Times which of the Tory hopefuls could win an election, Mr Johnson scored considerably ahead of Jeremy Hunt (pictured left arriving for the BBC’s Andrew Marr show today). Rory Stewart (pictured right at the BBC studios today) is the main candidate for the Remain wing
If replicated at a general election the finding would likely put Mr Farage in No10, although the ratings for the Lib Dems and other parties have yet to be published.
Mr Farage told MailOnline today: ‘It would appear that Mr Johnson wants a head to head fight. If that’s what he wants, he’s going to get it.’
Mr Johnson goes into the second week of the Tory campaign the red-hot favourite to succeed Theresa May, having racked up support from 114 MPs in the first ballot – more than his next three rivals combined.
Mr Johnson’s position received a further boost with the support of Esther McVey, who was eliminated from the contest after finishing last in the first ballot.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph she said: ‘He has promised to deliver Brexit on October 31, deal or no deal, and has shown time and time again that he is a dynamic leader, capable of building a strong team around him that will deliver on his promises.’
A YouGov poll found 47 per cent of the public think Boris Johnson can defeat Labour and Nigel Farage – while just 22 per cent think he would lose
Meanwhile, there was growing alarm among pro-European Tories at the prospect Mr Johnson takes Britain out of the EU on October 31, even if he has been unable to secure a new deal with Brussels.
Veteran former chancellor Ken Clarke said that in those circumstances he would vote to bring down the Government.
‘If some idiot was sailing into a No Deal Brexit I’d decide politics had finally gone mad and vote against it,’ he told The Observer.
Mrs May’s allies told the Mail on Sunday she has privately vowed to thwart any attempt by Mr Johnson to take the UK out of the EU without a deal.
The disclosure comes as senior party figures told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs May had voted for ultra-Remainer Rory Stewart in Thursday’s ballot of MPs, which led to a landslide victory for Mr Johnson.
Mrs May, who says she will stay on as an MP after she leaves Downing Street next month, has suggested she would join forces with pro-Remain Ministers such as Chancellor Philip Hammond and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to try to stop Mr Johnson from leaving after the October 31 deadline ‘Deal or No Deal’.
What happens next? ‘Stop Boris’ Tory leadership hopefuls now locked in a battle for second place to make it onto the final ballot paper
The field of Tory leadership challengers has been whittled down to six after three candidates were ousted at the first ballot of MPs on Thursday and Matt Hancock opted to withdraw on Friday.
Those still standing now have two days in which to persuade more of their Conservative colleagues to back their bids before the second round of voting takes place on Tuesday.
At this point the race is entirely about momentum. Boris Johnson has cemented his status as the prohibitive favourite after he secured 114 votes – enough to effectively guarantee he is one of the final two candidates.
But for the remaining five candidates, it is all still to play for.
Four Tory leadership challengers are now out of the race for Number 10. Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Mark Harper were eliminated in the first round of voting while Matt Hancock has chosen to withdraw from the race
What happens on Tuesday?
Tory MPs will vote for the second time in what is likely to be a make or break moment in the race to succeed Theresa May.
There will be six candidates to choose from but only Mr Johnson will have any certainty about making it to the next stage.
Anyone not named Mr Johnson will now have the same goal: To finish in second place and make it onto the final ballot paper alongside Mr Johnson.
Jeremy Hunt came second in Thursday’s vote with the support of 43 of his colleagues.
But none of the other remaining candidates are too far behind and all of them will be hopeful of hoovering up at least some of the MPs who backed the four candidates who are no longer in the race.
They will need at least 33 votes to progress to the third vote but if all of the six candidates manage to get past that threshold, whoever has the fewest votes will be eliminated.
The Foreign Secretary came second in the first round of voting and will now be hoping to persuade Tory MPs that he is the candidate capable of challenging Boris Johnson
What happens after the second round of voting on Tuesday?
It is the job of Tory MPs to cut the list of candidates to two and after Tuesday’s vote there will then follow further ballots on Wednesday and, if necessary, on Thursday, until the chosen pair remain.
The number of further ballots needed will be determined by whether trailing candidates opt to withdraw from the contest.
What happens once there are two candidates left?
Conservative Party members will be asked to choose who they want to be their next leader.
The final two will have to face 16 leadership hustings events across the nation with the first due to be held in Birmingham on June 22 and the last one taking place in London in the week starting July 15.
Ballot papers are expected to sent out to members between July 6-8.
The overall winner of the contest is due to be announced in the week of July 22.
Who could the MPs who supported the four eliminated candidates now back?
Dominic Raab, who finished fourth with 27 votes, will be hopeful of securing the support of many of the MPs who backed Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom.
Both have advocated a similarly hardline approach to Brexit as Mr Raab but Mr Johnson will also have his eye on winning over a lot of their backers with his own pledge to deliver Brexit on October 31.
The 10 MPs who backed Mark Harper, a candidate with a softer approach to Brexit, will be targeted by the likes of Mr Hunt and Sajid Javid.
Mr Javid will also be hopeful of securing the support of the 20 MPs who backed Mr Hancock.
Boris Johnson is now the prohibitive favourite to succeed Theresa May after securing the support of 114 Tory MPs in the first round of voting
So does Boris have it sewn up?
Previous Tory leadership contests have shown that the person who leads the race at the start of the process does not always finish in first.
Leadership campaigns are also volatile and it is distinctly possible that an unforeseen event in the coming weeks could radically shake up the battle for Number 10.
Mr Johnson is in pole position but there is still plenty of time for that to change.