Tory leadership contenders are insisting they will not pull out of the race for No 10, despite Boris Johnson’s overwhelming win in the first round ballot of MPs.
The former foreign secretary goes into the second week of the campaign the clear favourite to succeed Theresa May.
However, none of the five other remaining candidates has shown any sign they are ready to withdraw to give him a clear run.
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, has faced criticism over his reluctance to face media scrutiny amid concerns among his aides he could throw away his seemingly unassailable lead.
He has made clear he will not take part in the first television debate being staged on Sunday by Channel 4.
He has, however, indicated he will participate in a BBC debate on Tuesday when the number of contenders will have been further whittled down.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was a distant second in the first round, insisted he had still not given up hope of winning in the final postal ballot of party members.
“I am the insurgent in this race,” he told The Mail on Sunday.
“I am in it to win it because we have to give the country better choices given the crisis that we’re in now.”
Michael Gove – who came back from disclosures over his past cocaine use to finish third – described himself as the “Chumbawamba candidate”, a reference to the band’s hit Tubthumping, with the lyric “I get knocked down but I get up again”.
Nevertheless, the Environment Secretary sought to extend an olive branch to Mr Johnson after scuppering his last leadership bid in 2016, saying he would be happy to serve under him if he succeeded this time.
“I would absolutely work with Boris in any way that he wanted to work with me. No question. It is a different time requiring a different approach,” he told The Sunday Times.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid also said he believed he could make it through to challenge Mr Johnson in the final ballot, despite having only finished fifth the first-round vote of MPs.
“It’s now almost certain that Boris will go through the MP rounds and has a lot of support with party members,” he tweeted.
“But I’m also sensing a growing appetite for a robust final round.
“I believe the best contest would be a positive debate between two change candidates. I have the background, experience and vision to give people a proper choice.”
Meanwhile, there was growing alarm among pro-European Tories at the prospect Mr Johnson takes Britain out of the EU on October 31, even if he has been unable to secure a new deal with Brussels.
Veteran former chancellor Ken Clarke said that in those circumstances he would vote to bring down the Government.
“If some idiot was sailing into a no-deal Brexit I’d decide politics had finally gone mad and vote against it,” he told The Observer.
Mr Johnson’s position received a further boost with the support of Esther McVey, who was eliminated from the contest after finishing last in the first ballot.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph she said: “He has promised to deliver Brexit on October 31, deal or no deal, and has shown time and time again that he is a dynamic leader, capable of building a strong team around him that will deliver on his promises.”
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