Tories at war again

Top Tories rush to stop Boris bandwagon

May expected to stand as Gove backs Johnson

Michael Gove has endorsed Boris Johnson’s bid to be prime minister, setting up a “dream team” bid to replace David Cameron.

The justice secretary called the former London mayor yesterday morning and told him he would back him for the Tory leadership, saying the two should join forces for the good of the country.

Theresa May’s closest aides were last night calling MPs to line up support for the home secretary. May, who is regarded as Johnson’s main rival with a national profile, is expected to enter the contest by the end of the week. She is likely to get the backing of some Cameron loyalists. A member of the PM’s circle said: “There is a special place in hell reserved for Boris. He and Gove have basically engineered a right-wing coup. We need to get behind Theresa. She’s the grown-up.”

Five other senior Tories also today break cover to mount “stop Boris” leadership bids. Signalling their intentions to run, Nicky Morgan, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox and George Freeman call for the party to change direction as they mapped out blueprints for their campaigns. Aides said Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, is also “considering a run”.

Gove is now wooing George Osborne, the chancellor, to join the “dream team” as two senior ministers close to the chancellor indicated their support for Johnson, saying it would be better to get behind the frontrunner than seek to destroy him.

But Osborne was also accused last night of masterminding an effort to thwart Johnson by engineering a rule change to ensure that he takes on a woman in the final run-off.

In a bid to stop a “coronation”, Nicky Morgan launched a coded attack on the tone of Johnson’s Brexit campaign. Writing in The Sunday Times, the education secretary warned Conservatives not to adopt a hardline stance on immigration like the Brexiteers, warning it would condemn the party to the political “wilderness” if they retreated to an “ideological comfort zone” in a bid to “appease the noisy fringes”.

In a second challenge to Johnson, Stephen Crabb, the work and pensions secretary, urged the party to change its approach and adopt “working-class values”. Crabb, who was raised on a council estate by a single mother, said: “The referendum campaign highlighted deeply entrenched divisions in parts of Britain’s society which demands a One Nation response focused on improving social mobility and breaking down barriers to opportunity.”

Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, called for the Tories to ditch Cameron’s support for big business and embrace “popular capitalism” that rewards effort, not failure. Friends said he was “very likely” to run.

And last night George Freeman, the life sciences minister, said he has the support of 30 MPs from the 2010 and 2015 intakes to run in a bid to force the main contenders to adopt policies that will appeal to young people. In a dig at Johnson and Gove, he said younger MPs are opposed to the “inchoate insurgency that is storming Westminster”.

The onslaught came as:

• Lord Hill, Britain’s commissioner, in Brussels announced that he was resigning

•A poll showed that a majority of Scots wanted to leave the UK after the Brexit vote

•Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said there was “no need to be nasty” to Britain.

Gove yesterday rejected calls from friends such as business minister Nick Boles, to run himself, saying the team that won the referendum should stick together. His goal now is to stop Osborne backing either May or Crabb, who are seen as the other leading contenders.

In a surprise development, ministerial allies of Osborne revealed they are prepared to sign up to the dream team. “Look at what Boris and Michael have just achieved,” said one minister who is friends with Osborne. “It might not be a good idea to attack them but to get behind them.”

Another cabinet minister who would have backed Osborne before added: “George and Boris worked together extremely closely in London. A lot of Boris’s success there was paid for by George.”

But Osborne was accused last night of plotting to keep Johnson off the ballot paper.

Under the rules, Tory MPs will winnow the field of contenders to two in a series of votes before the parliamentary recess on July 21, after which the final decision will be made by party members.

The MP Antoinette Sandbach is expected to table a motion to the backbench 1922 committee tomorrow demanding that one of the two finalists should be a woman. A source close to Johnson said that if the plan is approved, whichever female candidate came out ahead in the first round of voting would “get a free pass” into the final round, leaving the men to fight it out for the other slot.

But those MPs who had voted for a woman would be able to switch their support to Johnson’s opponents in a bid to freeze him out.

MPs claimed the plan was an “Osborne plot to bugger up Boris” — a claim fiercely denied by the chancellor’s aides.

In another intervention, former minister Alan Duncan said MPs should shun the “ permanent ride on the big dipper” of a Johnson leadership, saying MPs “must not be given a stitched-up option”.

And the small business minister and “remain” campaigner Anna Soubry accused Johnson of joining “leave” to further his career. “My anger with Boris is that I don’t honestly believe that he believed what he was saying to people,” she said last night. “He went for ‘leave’, because it would serve him in his leadership ambitions.”

Candidates will have until a week on Tuesday to submit their nominations with Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister, expected to join the field too.

Sajid Javid,the business secretary, is also consulting friends about a run, though MPs expect him to back Crabb. Javid, a Eurosceptic who backed “remain”, uses an article in The Sunday Times today to pivot back, reassuring company bosses: “Together, we will make Brexit work for British business.”

Johnson will meet his campaign team today at his country home in Thame, Oxfordshire, to make a final decision to run. Friends say his wife, the QC Marina Wheeler, has given her blessing and aides are looking for office space in Westminster.

Insiders say he has picked up new supporters — including at least one cabinet minister — since the Brexit vote.

But Morgan warned that he will not have the support of the left of the party without a fight, saying: “There will be those in the Conservative party who see the temptation in times of crisis to retreat to our ideological comfort zone . . . I know all too well the wilderness to which that path inevitably leads.”

A friend of Fox claimed he has more chance than Johnson of uniting the party: “Liam is a ‘leaver’ and can reach across the party having made a point of not aggravating the other side during the referendum by being polite at all times.”

A Downing Street source said Cameron would neither support or oppose any candidate. “The prime minister is clear: he’s not going to interfere in the leadership.”

A source close to Osborne denied that he had anything to do with the plan to have a woman in the final round.

Link to original:

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove attacked by David Cameron allies over ‘mendacious’ EU campaign

The Tory civil war over the EU referendum escalated  after friends of David Cameron accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of leading a “mendacious” campaign and “corroding” trust in politics.

The Prime Minister’s allies  claimed his “project fear” warnings that Brexit would bring economic disaster were proving to be a “reality” as the bitter feuding from the referendum campaign reached new heights.

Mr Johnson is this week expected to declare as a candidate for the Conservative leadership contest and emphasise his values as a liberal Tory and electoral success in two Mayoral campaigns and the EU referendum.

Read on…

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