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Matt Hancock backs 'One Nation Tory' Johnson for leader

Boris Johnson's allies dismissed talk of a Brexit pact with Nigel Farage today - as he won the backing of former rival Matt Hancock. 

Supporters of the Tory front runner insisted he did not 'need' to do a deal with Mr Farage, despite the rising threat from his new party. 

The rebuke came amid claims Conservative donors are plotting a tie-up with Mr Farage that could prevent the Eurosceptic vote from splitting at an election.

The arrangement could mean the Brexit Party does not field candidates against Tories they see as sound on making a clean break from the EU. 

Mr Johnson's procession towards Downing Street gathered pace today as the Health Secretary backed him - amid claims he has already started promising Cabinet jobs.  

Mr Hancock dropped out on Friday after a disappointing result in the first round ballot, but has now put himself in the running to be the next Chancellor by endorsing the favourite.

The support of a former Remainer and Cabinet heavyweight further reinforces Mr Johnson's status as PM-in-waiting. Michael Gove also appeared to be trying to smooth relations this morning, rejecting the idea that Mr Johnson should be ruled out on grounds of 'moral probity' and praising his pro-business record.

However, Mr Johnson is facing more criticism over his 'submarine' campaign strategy of minimising scrutiny.

Having snubbed the first Tory leadership TV debate last night, Mr Johnson is expected to stay away from hustings with political journalists today. 

Mr Johnson (pictured leaving his London home today) is looking unstoppable for next PM

Supporters of the Tory front runner insisted he did not 'need' to do a deal with Nigel Farage (pictured outside No10 earlier this month) despite the rising threat from his new party

Matt Hancock pictured at Parliament after quitting the Tory leader race on Friday, having securing just 20 votes in the first round - and has now endorsed Boris Johnson

Justice Secretary David Gauke laid into Mr Johnson on Twitter today as tensions rose 

Brexit minister James Cleverly said if Mr Johnson became PM he would not need to do a deal with Mr Farage.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'I can't see that is something he would want to do and it is not anything he would need to do.

'He is able to win elections with Conservatives and Conservative support. He didn't broach electoral pacts in London and I can't imagine he would need to broach electoral pacts at this point.'

Channel 4 faces backlash over 'dodgy' Tory leader debate 

An empty podium was left by Channel 4 to embarrass Boris Johnson after he snubbed the Tory leadership debate last night

Channel 4 was today accused of holding a 'dodgy' Tory leadership debate where candidates were encouraged to 'knock chunks out of each other' - while hard Brexiteer Dominic Raab was 'sidelined'. 

Viewers who attacked the broadcaster after last night's TV battle also declared that Boris Johnson had 'won' because he had refused to take part, calling it a pro-EU 'kangaroo court' and a 'trap'.

Host Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who attended Oxford University, was also blasted as 'snide' for introducing each candidate by the school and university they went to.

Channel 4 today insisted that the audience was made up of 'floating voters' who were 'open' to voting Tory and picked by an independent polling company.

But those watching at home said those in the studio appeared 'biased' towards the EU because there was so little clapping for anyone advocating Brexit, calling it a 'remainer fest'.

Channel 4 tried to shame Mr Johnson during the showdown last night by leaving an empty podium where he should have been - while Guru-Murthy taunted that there was still time for him to 'get a taxi' to the studios.

The other hopefuls slammed Mr Johnson - who was holed up in his London flat - for his 'submarine' campaign strategy, with Jeremy Hunt demanding to know: 'Where is Boris?'

But the would-be PMs then took a series of brutal potshots at one another, with Rory Stewart raging about 'macho posturing', Sajid Javid saying Dominic Raab was 'trashing democracy', and Mr Raab retorting that his colleagues would 'buckle' to the EU.  

During the Tory leadership TV debate last night, Rory Stewart was the only one of the five candidates present who said they would be willing to talk to Mr Farage about how to secure Brexit. 

The Aid Secretary insisted Mr Farage was the 'man that led the Leave campaign' in the 2016 referendum.

But a clearly infuriated Michael Gove retorted: 'Nigel Farage is not the face of Brexit.'

Jeremy Hunt said Mr Farage's 'first choice' was Brexit on basic World Trade organisation terms, and that should not be the Tory position.  

Sajid Javid said: 'You don't beat the Brexit Party by becoming the Brexit Party.'  

Chancellor Philip Hammond will not survive the changeover to a Johnson regime, meaning the prized spot at No11 is up for grabs.

Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss has been pushing hard for the job, having backed Mr Johnson from the start.  

However, allies of Mr Johnson said he had been 'inspired' by Mr Hancock's campaign and it is understood the pair spoke several times over the weekend. 

Mr Hancock said he 'wholeheartedly endorsed' Mr Johnson who he said can 'bring the party and country together' by 'dominating the centre ground'.

He praised Mr Johnson's 'disciplined campaign' and argued he is 'almost certain' to be the next PM. 

'We need to unite behind him with a strong team that can bring the party together and then bring the country together,' he told The Times. 

'I have repeatedly argued for a strategy of defeating the danger of Farage by delivering Brexit and defeating the danger of Corbyn by dominating the centre ground thereafter. That is Boris's plan and I wholeheartedly endorse it.'

Mr Gove admitted he was disappointed by Mr Hancock's decision.

'He is a friend of mine and I know that over the course of the weekend he had a very tough decision to make,' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

'Without going into private conversations, I know that he was alternating between supporting Boris and supporting me.

'He felt that we were the two strongest candidates in the race.' 

During his interview, Mr Gove was repeatedly pressed on whether Mr Johnson's 'morality' should rule him out of the battle for No10.  

'I would dismiss that altogether,' he said. 'Moral probity does matter. But I think that all of the candidates who are standing to be leader, in my view, are capable of being prime minister.

'I personally think that Boris and all the other candidates are people who on every ground have what it takes to be a potentially good prime minister.'

He added: 'There have been various attempts to to mount personal attacks against him and against some other candidates. 

'I think that is wrong. Look, in the past, I have had my criticisms and differences with Boris. 

'But I believe he is somebody who is capable of being prime minister.' 

Mr Hancock quit the race after securing just 20 votes in the first round with an admission that the party was not looking for the 'candidate of the future' but 'a candidate for the unique circumstances we face right now'.

Mr Johnson's team insisted no offers of a job in a future cabinet had been discussed. Mr Hancock is seen as a potential chancellor or business secretary in a Johnson administration.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured out running today) is Mr Johnson's closest challenger - but came a distant second in the first round of voting last week 

It came as Mr Johnson's campaign was buoyed by a poll showing voters believe he is the only leadership candidate who can win the next election. The YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed the Brexit Party was now ahead of both the Tories and Labour.

It put Nigel Farage's party on 24 per cent, three points ahead of Labour and the Tories on 21 per cent with the Lib Dems close behind on 19 per cent. A total of 47 per cent think Mr Johnson can see off Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage and only 22 per cent disagree. 

Just 15 per cent say his nearest rival, Jeremy Hunt, can win the Tories another term in power. It also suggested Mr Johnson was the only candidate who would persuade voters to turn to the Tories. Some 22 per cent said they were more likely to vote Tory if he was leader.

None of his rivals scored more than 8 per cent. But 59 per cent of voters said they wouldn't buy a used car from Mr Johnson.

An empty podium was left by Channel 4 to embarrass Boris Johnson after he snubbed the Tory leadership debate last night

The endorsement comes despite Mr Hancock having turned his fire on Mr Johnson in the early stages of the contest over his attacks on business. 

Mr Johnson reportedly said 'f*** business' in fury at the CBI and other business groups trying to spread scaremongering stories about No Deal.

Mr Hancock argued Mr Johnson had the 'wrong attitude' and told the BBC's Today programme that it was vital for the Tories to 'back business and not bash business'.

'We need to support businesses because they're the ones who create the jobs.'

Yesterday Mr Johnson fuelled rumours of an early general election after footage emerged of him saying he would 'get Brexit done and get ready for an election'.

The comments came at hustings with party members on Saturday, but Mr Johnson's team furiously denied the claim. They said he had repeatedly ruled out an early election and argued he was referring to the election in 2022.

Mr Johnson also won the endorsement of former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey and former Scotland Yard boss Bernard Hogan-Howe – now a cross-bench peer – who described him as a 'really great mayor' of London.

What happens next? 'Stop Boris' Tory leadership hopefuls now locked in a battle for second place to make it onto the final ballot paper

The field of Tory leadership challengers has been whittled down to six after three candidates were ousted at the first ballot of MPs on Thursday and Matt Hancock opted to withdraw on Friday.

Those still standing now have one day in which to persuade more of their Conservative colleagues to back their bids before the second round of voting takes place tomorrow.

At this point the race is entirely about momentum. Boris Johnson has cemented his status as the favourite after he secured 114 votes - enough to effectively guarantee he is one of the final two candidates.

But for the remaining five candidates, it is all still to play for.

Four Tory leadership challengers are now out of the race for Number 10. Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Mark Harper were eliminated in the first round of voting while Matt Hancock has chosen to withdraw from the race

What happens on Tuesday?

Tory MPs will vote for the second time in what is likely to be a make or break moment in the race to succeed Theresa May.

There will be six candidates to choose from but only Mr Johnson will have any certainty about making it to the next stage.

Anyone not named Mr Johnson will now have the same goal: To finish in second place and make it onto the final ballot paper alongside Mr Johnson.

Jeremy Hunt came second in Thursday's vote with the support of 43 of his colleagues.

But none of the other remaining candidates are too far behind and all of them will be hopeful of hoovering up at least some of the MPs who backed the four candidates who are no longer in the race.

They will need at least 33 votes to progress to the third vote but if all of the six candidates manage to get past that threshold, whoever has the fewest votes will be eliminated.  

The Foreign Secretary came second in the first round of voting and will now be hoping to persuade Tory MPs that he is the candidate capable of challenging Boris Johnson

What happens after the second round of voting on Tuesday? 

It is the job of Tory MPs to cut the list of candidates to two and after Tuesday's vote there will then follow further ballots on Wednesday and, if necessary, on Thursday, until the chosen pair remain.

The number of further ballots needed will be determined by whether trailing candidates opt to withdraw from the contest. 

What happens once there are two candidates left? 

Conservative Party members will be asked to choose who they want to be their next leader. 

The final two will have to face 16 leadership hustings events across the nation with the first due to be held in Birmingham on June 22 and the last one taking place in London in the week starting July 15.

Ballot papers are expected to sent out to members between July 6-8. 

The overall winner of the contest is due to be announced in the week of July 22.  

Who could the MPs who supported the four eliminated candidates now back?

Mr Johnson has racked up endorsements from both Esther McVey and Matt Hancock over the weekend - increasing his already impressive tally.

The support will be hugely disappointing to Mr Raab - who needs votes from Brexiteers like Ms McVey - and Mr Gove, who had been hoping to woo Mr Hancock's centrist acolytes.

The 10 MPs who backed Mark Harper, a candidate with a softer approach to Brexit, have been targeted by the likes of Mr Hunt and Sajid Javid.  

Boris Johnson is now the prohibitive favourite to succeed Theresa May after securing the support of 114 Tory MPs in the first round of voting

So does Boris have it sewn up?

Previous Tory leadership contests have shown that the person who leads the race at the start of the process does not always finish in first.

Leadership campaigns are also volatile and it is distinctly possible that an unforeseen event in the coming weeks could radically shake up the battle for Number 10.

Mr Johnson is in pole position but there is still plenty of time for that to change. 

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