Contenders for the Tory crown have been lining up to insist there must be no unchallenged "coronation" for leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson.
Senior party figures were reported to be drawing up plans for the other candidates to withdraw from the contest next week after Mr Johnson gained an overwhelming win in the first ballot of MPs.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the scheme was hatched in the Tory whips' office in an attempt to avoid weeks of damaging "blue on blue" attacks by the rival contenders.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II talks to London Mayor Boris Johnson during the Beijing Olympics Team GB reception at Buckingham Palace in London.
Boris Johnson watches the election results with his wife Marina (L), at the count in Watlington, Oxfordshire, after winning the Henley seat for the Conservatives in the 2001 General Election. The seat was Michael Heseltine's, who has stepped down at this election.
Spectator editor and Conservative MP Boris Johnson (left) chats to former Tory Chancellor Lord (Norman) Lamont at a party to mark the Spectator's 175th anniversary, at the Four Seasons Hotel, Park Lane, London. Among those also in attendance at the party were Home Secretary David Blunkett, broadcasters David Dimbleby and Andrew Neil, and TV chef Nigella Lawson.
Boris Johnson, Conservative MP and editor of The Spectator magazine, at a party to mark The Spectator's 175th anniversary, at the Four Seasons Hotel, Park Lane, London. Among those also in attendance at the party were Home Secretary David Blunkett, broadcasters David Dimbleby and Andrew Neil, and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble. 16/10/2004 The Spectator editor Johnson, has been ordered by Tory leader Michael Howard to go to Liverpool to apologise for an article in his magazine accusing its people of 'wallowing' in their 'victim status'. Mr Johnson, who is also the Conservative shadow minister for the arts, said he would be travelling to the city next week in a 'spirit of complete humility' to apologise in person for the offence caused.
Shadow Arts Minister Boris Johnson campaigns for donations from delegates at the Conservative Party Annual Conference in Bournemouth. 15/10/2004: Tory MP Boris Johnson who edits The Spectator magazine where a leading article has accused Liverpudlians of wallowing in what they regard as their "victim status" over the murder of Ken Bigley and the Hillsborough football disaster in 1989.
Conservative Party MP Boris Johnson sits through a series of speeches during the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth.
Boris Johnson MP (centre) and editor of the Spectator at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts during a visit to the city to apologise for remarks made in his magazine about beheaded hostage Ken Bigley and the Hillsborough tragedy. But council leaders called on the people of Liverpool to ignore the "Boris Johnson show". The Tory MP for Henley created a storm of protest after the publication of a leader written in the Spectator, which suggested Liverpudlians were "hooked on grief".
Boris Johnson MP and editor of the Spectator magazine arrives at Claridges Hotel in London, where he is hosting the 'Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year' Awards. 13/11/2004 Boris Johnson who was Saturday November 13 2004, sacked from the Conservative frontbench amid fresh allegations about his private life, a spokesman for Tory leader Michael Howard said.
Boris Johnson arrives at his house in north London, after going for an early morning jog. The former Shadow Arts Minister and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, was relieved of his position by party leader Michael Howard, after revelations about his private life were published in a tabloid newspaper.
Boris Johnson, MP for Henley and Conservative spokesman on Higher Education, opens a footpath at the Environments Agency in Wallingford, Oxon, Friday April 7 2006. He later started a race between a car, a cyclist, runners and walkers to promote green travel. Watch for PA story.
England's Boris Johnson and Germany's Maurizio Gaudino shake hands at the end of the game
England's Boris Johnson (L) tackles Germany's Maurizio Gaudino during the Legends match at the Madejski Stadium in Reading.
Shadow education spokesman Boris Johnson MP, attends the final day of the Conservative Party's Annual Conference in Bournemouth.
Boris Johnson MP addresses a group of sixth form students from schools across London after being handed a petition against plans to scrap the last remaining ancient history A-level outside the House of Commons, London.
Boris Johnson (left) joins the Save our Services campaign against health cuts at St, Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, Kent.
Candidates for Mayor of London, Labour's Ken Livingston (left), Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick (centre) and Boris Johnson of the Conservative party, appear together on television debate.
Conservative candidate for Mayor of London Boris Johnson launches the final phase of his mayoral campaign at Bounces Road Community Hall, North London today.
Conservative Party leader David Cameron congratulates Boris Johnson on becoming London Mayor at Tory HQ in central London.
Newly elected London Mayor Boris Johnson wears a policeman's hat in Trafalgar Square, central London during the Sikh New Year Festival celebrations of Vaisakhi.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson waves the Olympic Flag during the handover ceremony as President of IOC Jacques Rogge (centre) and Mayor of Beijing Guo Jinlong look on at the National Stadium during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China.
Retired Formula 1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen (right) and current Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton (left) join Mayor of London Boris Johnson in backing an anti-drink-drive campaign at Potters Fields Park in London.
London Mayor Boris Johnson (2nd Left) celebrates St Georges Day in Leadenhall Market in the City of London today where he saw a festival of English food and drink.
Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron (2nd right) with Mayor of London Boris Johnson (2nd left) as they celebrate St George's day in Leadenhall Market in the City of London.
Boris Johnson and TV star Kelly Brook launch the Mayor of London's Skyride, Peter's Hill steps, London.
London Mayor Boris Johnson with a sculpture of a blue cockerel as he unveils the next two commissions for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, which includes the cockeral (pictured) by Katharina Fritsch and a boy on a rocking horse named Powerless Structures by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset.
Boris Johnson pictured with members of the Genesis Mas band, who will be performing at the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend, at Potters Fields in central London.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson (left) with Prime Minister David Cameron during the lighting of the Paralympic Cauldron in Trafalgar Square, central London.
London Mayor Boris Johnson boards one of the first trains of the new London Overground extension connecting Clapham Junction with Canada Water. ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday December 10 2012. The new service will be London's first new orbital Journey times from south and east London. See PA story RAIL Link. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Actor Brian Blessed (left) and Mayor of London Boris Johnson sell poppies in Liverpool Street Station in central London with they collected money from commuters including nine year old Arthur Crowley (centre) from Salisbury.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson (centre) swings from a bus as Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers (left), Northern First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster and Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment Jonathan Bell (second right) look on during a visit to Wrightbus Chassis plant in Antrim.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (left) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during a press conference following their meeting in Moscow.
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
It would mean Mr Johnson would be the only candidate to go forward to the final postal ballot of party members, making his election a formality.
However the plan was strongly condemned by leadership contenders Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart, who both insisted there must be a proper contest.
Arriving for a leadership hustings for the party grassroots, Mr Javid said they needed to learn from the last contest when Theresa May was elected unopposed after Andrea Leadsom dropped out.
"The party and the country deserve a good choice," he told reporters outside the event organised by the National Conservative Convention.
"I don't want to see a coronation. There needs to be a proper process that's followed through.
"We had a coronation the last time. That didn't work out well so let's not make the same mistake again.
"Let's give the opportunity to the members to have their say."
His comments were echoed by Mr Stewart, the International Development Secretary.
"The members of the Conservative Party who are wise, sensible, experienced people, deserve to have a choice," he said.
"We should have learned from the last time round coronations are not the way to do democratic politics."
Meanwhile Mr Johnson, who has been criticised for his reluctance to submit to media scrutiny, avoided reporters as his Range Rover pulled up at a side door at the London hotel where the event was being held.
Mr Stewart, who has been his sharpest critic among the other candidates, accused him of adopting a presidential approach to the contest.
"The whole genius of British politics is that we don't behave like American presidents sweeping up in a motorcade. We're all about talking to people," he said.
Mr Johnson has made it clear that he will not be taking part in the first TV debate scheduled for Sunday on Channel 4.
He has however said he will appear in the second debate on the BBC on Tuesday after the field has further slimmed down following the second round of voting by MPs.
Earlier, Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary who is also in the running, said it was essential all the contenders were thoroughly tested in the heat of debate.
"Everyone is going to have to demonstrate that they have not just the vision but the nerve and mettle to deal with the EU and with a minority government," he told The Daily Telegraph.
"If you can't take the heat of the TV studios what chance of taking the heat of the negotiating chamber in Brussels?"
He also contrasted his own background as a state school-educated son of a refugee with the "privileged" Old Etonian Mr Johnson, who is campaigning on a promise of tax cuts for the better off.
"When you campaign in marginal seats, who can reach out and unite the working-class vote and the middle-class vote?" he said.
"Are we going to be in a better position to do that with a candidate who isn't so easily caricatured as being from the privileged elite, with the son of a refugee, a grammar school boy who is offering tax cuts to most of those people on £15,000 as opposed to people on £50,000 and above?"