The Tory leadership saga took a bitter new twist as Justice Secretary Michael Gove was confronted at election hustings about a text apparently from his campaign team to supporters of Theresa May which appears to urge them to vote tactically to block Andrea Leadsom from reaching the final two.
The text, which pro-May supporters claim has been sent to scores of MPs, warns that if energy minister Ms Leadsom makes the run-off after Thursday's final crunch vote, party members could propel her to the leadership in the same way they did Iain Duncan Smith.
Extraordinary text messages emerges from Nick Boles, campaign chief of Michael Gove urging May supporters back him pic.twitter.com/ckAFOnghs9
-- Sam Coates Times (@SamCoatesTimes) July 6, 2016
One pro-May MP said after the hustings that the text, which he said was sent to him by Mr Gove's campaign chief Nick Boles, stated: "I respect the fact that you want Theresa May to be the Prime Minister. It is overwhelmingly likely that she will be, and if she does I will sleep easily at night.
"But I am seriously frightened about the risk of allowing Andrea Leadsom onto the membership ballot."
Mr Gove was asked about the text at the hustings, MPs present said, with a May supporter stating the Justice Secretary responded to the challenge with "a sort of giggle, and then he sat down. He didn't disown it, because so many MPs have received it, it is quite difficult to disown it".
However, an MP who is supporting Mr Gove said he handled the situation well and the mention of the text was not a key moment of the meeting.
Former leader Mr Duncan Smith moved to brush off the anti-Leadsom text, saying: "People with knives will end up stabbing themselves. I do think emails or texts like that are failing to smell the coffee, wake up and recognise we want to come back together, and govern as a Conservative Party, that we can get on with each other and do not want to spend the whole time stabbing each other in the back."
The row came as Ms Leadsom published her CV in a bid to clear up controversy over her past business roles after it was claimed by opponents that she had exaggerated her experience.
The hustings also saw Ms Leadsom say that she would not be releasing her tax returns, as other candidates have, unless she made the run-off.
The minister told MPs that they could come to see a summary of her tax affairs personally if they wanted to.