The battle for the Tory crown is revving up with a fresh round of voting in the leadership stakes as Boris Johnson is due to break cover and take part in TV debates.
Tory MPs will vote in the second bout of the contest to select Britain’s next prime minister on Tuesday ahead of a live TV debate that will feature the front-runner and former foreign secretary, Mr Johnson.
Candidates need to gain at least 33 votes from MPs to remain in the race to reach the final run-off, which will see some 160,000 Tory members select the next prime minister.
If all candidates pass the 33-vote threshold, the one with the lowest total will be eliminated and by the end of the week, four of the six current riders will be forced out, leaving the final two to go head-to-head for votes from the Tory grassroots.
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart’s campaign was boosted by the backing of Cabinet Office Minister and defacto deputy prime minister David Lidington.
Mr Stewart only secured 19 votes in the first round of voting, but is trying to position himself as the “change” candidate who can defeat Mr Johnson in the July run-off.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who got 23 votes in the last round, is also insistent he is in with a chance as he emphasises his appeal as a fresh face for the Tory Party.
Mr Johnson, who topped the initial poll with 114 votes, refused to take part in hustings with journalists on Monday, but was set to join rivals for a candidates’ debate on the BBC Tuesday.
Mr Lidington, who had supported Health Secretary Matt Hancock before he quit the race, said Mr Stewart was the right person to best connect the Tory Party with the country.
The Cabinet Office Minister told a pro-Stewart gathering in London: “I think there is a yearning in this country for political leaders who tell it straight to people.
“What Rory has done in his campaign is to demonstrate that there are no no-go areas in this country for him or for the party which he aspires to lead.”
The backing for Mr Stewart saw reports that Environment Secretary Michael Gove was trying to present Mr Stewart as a “polarising” candidate who would promote “blue-on-blue” Tory infighting if he made the final run-off.