Michael Gove set to challenge Boris Johnson for Tory leadership with pitch for party 'unity'
Michael Gove is today expected to throw his hat into the ring for the Conservative leadership by pitching himself as a "unity candidate".
According to reports, the Environment Secretary - who clashed with Boris Johnson during the 2016 leadership contest - will announce his candidacy on Sunday.
Mr Gove campaigned alongside Mr Johnson in the official pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign in 2016.
But he rocked the 2016 Tory leadership battle when he withdrew his support for his former ally and announced his own pitch for the top job.
In a clear hint that Mr Gove is looking to contrast himself with Mr Johnson again, a source close to the Environment Secretary told the Sunday Times that he was "a consistent Brexiteer who put his career on the line to lead and win the leave campaign".
They added: "He has also won the confidence of many of those who voted to remain who believe he has the proven ability to deliver the best deal for Britain.
"He has always believed in Brexit and he is capable of delivering it, with the best track record of any candidate."
Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph reports that Mr Gove told MPs at a private dinner last week that he was a "unity" candidate with the "vision" and proven "grip" to make Brexit happen.
He will enter an already-packed field of Tory runners-and-riders, with arch-Brexiters Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab the latest to formally join the contest.
Mr Raab, the former Brexit Secretary told the Mail on Sunday he wanted to lay out an "optimistic Conservative vision" - and vowed to "fight for a fairer deal on Brexit".
Meanwhile Ms Leadsom - who quit the Cabinet this week over Theresa May's latest bid to sell her Brexit deal - told the Sunday Times she had the "experience and confidence" to "lead this country into a brighter future".
Both candidates made clear that they would be prepared to walk away from the European Union without a deal in October - a move also backed by Mr Johnson, who said on Friday that Britain would leave "deal or no deal" on 31 October if he became Prime Minister.
But, writing in the Observer, Justice Secretary David Gauke urged candidates flirting with a no-deal exit to acknowledge the “enormously harmful” effects it could have.
"All those that do have such aspirations have a responsibility to set out their approach to Brexit, which is anchored in the hard realities of the situation," he added.
"We should not pretend that leaving the European Union without a deal will be anything other than enormously harmful to our economy, weaken our security relationships and threaten the integrity of the union."
Mr Gove, Mr Raab and Ms Leadsom join Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, ex-Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart in the race to succeed Theresa May in Number 10.
Mr Hunt used an interview in the Sunday Times to talk up his business credentials, arguing that his background as an entrepeneur meant he was "capable of negotiating a deal" with the EU.
The Cabinet minister added: "Doing deals is my bread and butter as someone who has set up their own business. I’ve taken risks, I’ve employed people. You have to do deals the whole time.”