BORIS Johnson’s allies are plotting to rig the leadership contest by ‘lending’ votes to rival Jeremy Hunt – MPs claimed yesterday.
In an extraordinary allegation, senior Tories told The Sun that MPs on Boris’ books were desperate for their man to face off against the struggling Foreign Secretary – to avoid Michael Gove.
6 Boris Johnson’s allies are allegedly plotting to rig the leadership contest by ‘lending’ votes to one of his rivalsCredit: JONATHAN BRADY
6 Senior Tory MPs claim Boris’ backers will vote for Jeremy Hunt in order to avoid an ultimate face-off between Boris and Michael GoveCredit: Getty
There is also a growing concern about the remarkable challenge coming from anti-Boris candidate Rory Stewart.
One Tory told The Sun: “MPs on Boris’ team are looking at lending Jeremy votes.
“Boris has so much headroom he can be a master manipulator. It’s like something out of 1930s Chicago. And given it’s a secret ballot there’s no way of stopping it.”
Another said: “There’s talk of 15 MPs going across.”
Boris got a staggering 114 votes in last week’s first round of voting – more than his three closest competitors combined.
His supporters believe he could climb towards 150 in today’s second round after picking up support from Health Secretary Matt Hancock, arch Eurosceptic Esther McVey and their respective followers.
Such a result would hand him almost 50 per cent of the parliamentary party.
He has so much headroom he can be a master manipulator.
But MPs claim ‘Team Boris’ are also desperate to prop up Jeremy Hunt, as they believe their man can “wipe the floor” with the Foreign Secretary when it comes to the run-off between the final two.
Mr Hunt only received 43 votes in last week’s first round – narrowly beating Michael Gove into third on 37.
“Jeremy is hated by the arch Brexiteers, who see him as a Remainer,” one MP said.
“And the ultra-Remainers don’t trust him because of his reincarnation as a Brexiteer. Boris would eat him alive if it went to the membership.”
The MP added: “Michael is viewed as a far more formidable rival. They’re both true Brexiteers and they know each other well from Vote Leave.”
A senior source in the Boris campaign last night insisted the idea of lending votes was “insane” and “crazy”. But they noted: “What members do in the privacy of the voting booth is clearly up to them.”
And a Minister on a rival campaign conceded: “I’m not surprised. It’s what I would do if I was them.”BOJO’S NO SHOW
All five other remaining leadership contenders again stuck the boot into frontrunner Boris Johnson yesterday for ducking yet another public grilling following his ‘no show’ in Channel 4’s leadership debate on Sunday night.
The former Foreign Secretary was the only one to refuse to come to a hustings in front of Westminster journalists yesterday morning.
6 One MP says ‘Michael is viewed as a far more formidable rival’ as he is a fellow BrexiteerCredit: PA:Press Association
6 Boris’ allies are also said to be concerned by the growing competition from Rory StewartCredit: PA:Press Association
6 Home Secretary Sajid Javid believes he’s the best candidate to take on favourite BorisCredit: Getty
His spokesman insisted he needed the time to prepare for tomorrow night’s live BBC1 debate – the first he will take part in.
But Jeremy Hunt mocked the mop haired former London mayor by invoking his political idol to “summon up some Churchillian courage and come along too”.
And when Mr Hunt was asked whether Boris’ gaffe was to blame for Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe still being in prison in Iran, he added: “Everyone makes mistakes.”
Michael Gove also stuck the knife into Boris’ no show, saying: “These hustings without Boris are like Hamlet without the prince.
“Of course we all know what happened in the play. Hamlet didn’t become king.”
Meanwhile Sajid Javid also took a swipe with the introductory jibe: “I’m big enough to be here myself.”
The Home Secretary said he did trust Boris, but in another dig at his rocky period in charge of the Foreign Office, Mr Javid added that if he became PM: “I might not give him Foreign Secretary.”
These hustings without Boris are like Hamlet without the prince. Of course we all know what happened in the play. Hamlet didn’t become king.Michael Gove
He separately added: “I’m the best person to take on Boris. My background is different and my time in Government is ‘very’ different.”
Brexit ‘hardman’ Dominic Raab accused Boris of stealing his ideas on Brexit and how to replace the controversial Irish ‘backstop’.
He said: “You need to ask Boris, scrutinise him very carefully, why he’s adopted my proposals.”
Boris did turn up to a 15 minute Q&A with Tory MPs late yesterday afternoon.
He once more insisted Britain could deliver a super-fast Brexit by turbo-charging plans for ‘alternative arrangements’ on the Irish border.
But he was roughed up by MPs over how the Conservatives would win back Lib Dem seats or appeal to younger female voters.
Simon Hoare, the new chair of the Northern Ireland Committee – and part of Sajid Javid’s team – asked Boris how he expected loyalty from colleagues when he had proven himself disloyal to Theresa May.
One MP said: “He spoke a bit but didn’t answer.”
After the hustings, Gavin Williamson, ex-Defence Secretary and key Boris lieutenant, praised his appearance: “It was a commanding performance.
“I think everyone felt confident that there was a man who had the vision, the belief, in delivering for both the party and the country.”
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But Claire Perry, Energy Minister, took to social media to criticise Mr Johnson for appearing to run from confrontation, saying he usually wasn’t “frightened of much”.
She said: “I’m surprised he’s following the Gavin Williamson submarine and dark arts strategy at a time when we are desperate for honesty and truth.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd added: “It would be good to see more of him.”
6 Boris’ supporters think he could climb towards 150 votes in the second round after picking up support from Matt Hancock and Esther McVeyCredit: PA:Press Association
Channel 4 leave podium empty for Boris Johnson and invite Conservative candidate to join live debate