Michael Gove says Tory final two must 'believe in Brexit' as second leadership vote looms
Michael Gove has urged Tory MPs to make sure candidates who "believe in Brexit" get through to the final run-off for the party leadership.
The Environment Secretary - one of six candidates vying to replace Theresa May - took a veiled swipe at rival Rory Stewart as he called on colleagues not to allow a contender "who will polarise our party" through to the ballot of party members.
His comments came as Conservative MPs prepared to hold their second leadership ballot on Tuesday, with only candidates who get the at least 33 votes - and do not come last - allowed to stay in the race.
The vote follows last week's first round, which saw Boris Johnson emerge as the clear frontrunner with 114 votes followed by remaining contenders Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid and Mr Stewart.
The International Development Secretary, who campaigned for Remain and has ruled out a no-deal Brexit, received a boost on Monday when he was backed by Theresa May's deputy, David Lidington.
But, writing in The Times, Mr Gove urged Conservative MPs not to make the party's divisions worse by picking a candidate who sees Brexit "as a problem to be managed rather than an opportunity to be seized".
Those comments could also be seen as a dig at Mr Hunt and Mr Javid, who both campaigned to Remain in the 2016 referendum.
Mr Gove said: "I led the Leave campaign in 2016 because I believe in revitalising our democracy, and giving a voice to those who found their views over-ridden, thanks to the EU’s policies. It was not an easy decision, but I was sure then - as I am now - that there is a brighter future for Britain outside the EU.
"That conviction is shared by the vast majority of the Conservative Party’s membership. So it would be an error to put forward candidates who don’t share that belief. They simply won’t win the confidence of the Conservative voluntary party - so many of whom campaigned with me for Brexit in 2016."
The second round of Tory voting will kick off in Parliament's oak-panelled committee room 14 at 3pm on Tuesday, with results set to be declared at around 6pm.
The candidate who comes last will be automatically removed from the contest, as well as anyone who fails to get 33 votes.
Further ballots are scheduled to take place on Wednesday and Thursday until only two are left in the race, after which Conservative members will make the final call on who should lead the party.
Mr Gove's intervention came as The Sun reported that up to 15 backers of Mr Johnson were considering offering votes to rival Jeremy Hunt in order to avoid a run-off with Mr Gove..
One Conservative MP told the paper: "MPs on Boris’ team are looking at lending Jeremy votes.
"Boris has so much headroom he can be a master manipulator. It’s like something out of 1930s Chicago. And given it’s a secret ballot there’s no way of stopping it."