Rudd tells Johnson to repudiate ‘game-playing’ in battle for Tory crown

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Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd (Victoria Jones/PA)

Boris Johnson has been urged by Cabinet minister Amber Rudd to publicly come out against “game-playing” in the Tory leadership race.

The call came as the battle for Downing Street entered its final phase at Westminster.

Conservative MPs will decide on Thursday which two candidates will make the run-off in which 160,000 party members choose the next Prime Minister of the country.

Amid reports that supporters of the former foreign secretary may vote tactically to try and knock Michael Gove out of the competition, Ms Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I find all this conversation about lending votes rather discrediting of the system.

“I would really call on Boris himself to repudiate the information that is coming out of ‘friends of Boris’, saying this, saying one thing.”

The Work and Pensions Secretary, who backs Jeremy Hunt in the race for Number 10, added: “This is a serious moment. We don’t need that sort of game-playing going on in Parliament.”

Referring to reports that Johnson supporters would vote strategically to try and scupper Mr Gove’s chances of making the run-off, former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan, who backs the Environment Secretary, told the BBC: “There has been all sorts of speculation.

“But, I would say to my colleagues, I think that is an extremely good reason why Michael absolutely should be in the final two.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a supporter of Mr Johnson, said any “dirty tricks” by supporters of the former foreign secretary to try and knock Mr Gove out of the contest would be “silly”.

He told the Press Association: “I think people should always vote for the candidate they support.

“It is really silly to try and game elections because you can find that your candidate then loses.”

Eliminated Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart has said he will not publicly back any of the remaining contenders on Thursday.

PA Graphics
(PA Graphics)

He Tweeted: “I will not be declaring for anyone today – but I will be voting.”

Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson appears certain to make it through to the next stage of the process, having topped the ballot in each of the three rounds of the contest so far and securing the votes of 143 of the 313 Tory MPs.

Mr Hunt, Mr Gove and Sajid Javid also remain in the contest, but two rounds of voting on Thursday – the first announced at 1pm – will whittle the field down to a final pairing.

At each round, the MP with the lowest total will be eliminated, with the final announcement due to be made at 6pm.

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The next Tory leader and prime minister will be chosen by Conservative members next month from the two candidates who make it through.

Sources in Mr Johnson’s camp played down a report in the Daily Telegraph that his supporters might lend their votes to Mr Javid in order to knock Mr Gove out of the contest.

Mr Gove’s decision to stand for the leadership in 2016 effectively torpedoed Mr Johnson’s campaign then and the wounds have not healed.

But Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns, who is backing Mr Johnson, told ITV’s Peston there would be “some poetic justice” if the bitter rivals were in the final run-off.

She said that although there were “tricks going on” in the contest, Mr Johnson’s campaign was not to blame.

Mr Gove insisted “I do think I would be a better prime minister than Boris”, but “he has formidable qualities and he is a big part of the Conservative Party’s and the country’s future”.

While Mr Johnson has “communication skills aplenty”, the Environment Secretary told LBC that “I believe that I would be better equipped than any of the other candidates” to take Jeremy Corbyn “to the cleaners” with a “forensic” examination of his policies.

In Wednesday’s ballot, Mr Johnson received 143 votes, up from 126 on Tuesday, with Mr Hunt on 54, up from 46.

Mr Gove was in third place, up 10 from 41 to 51 votes, while Mr Javid picked up five extra votes to reach 38.

Mr Stewart was eliminated from the contest after his tally fell from 37 to 27 and he suggested there had been “shenanigans” in the run-up to the ballot.

But after the result, he told Peston: “I don’t think it was dirty tricks by Boris.

“I think what happened is that somehow some combination of my message and momentum convinced the other camps to tighten up, so I think most of my votes will have gone to Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and some to Sajid.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Amid speculation that Mr Javid has his eyes on becoming Mr Johnson’s chancellor, the Home Secretary insisted his sights were set on Number 10 and he was “in it to win it”.

Mr Hunt said he was the person best-placed to take on Mr Johnson, promising to put his “heart and soul” into the contest.

“The stakes are too high to allow anyone to sail through untested,” he said.

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