Allies of Penny Mordaunt have privately told her she needs to drop out of the Tory leadership contest and “do a deal with Boris”. It comes as Mr Johnson has been privately warned that he cannot rely on the support for all Brexiteers this time around.
Ms Mordaunt, who is being billed as a modern candidate who can give the party unity, announced on Twitter this afternoon that she is to enter the contest.
She said: “I’ve been encouraged by support from colleagues who want a fresh start, a united party and leadership in the national interest.
“I’m running to be the leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister – to unite our country, deliver our pledges and win the next General Election.”
However, currently Ms Mordaunt is believed to be on just 24 nominations less than a quarter needed to go to the members.
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak is closing rapidly on the 100 needed with 88 names.
Sources close to the Mordaunt campaign said she needs to consider a deal with Mr Johnson “before it is too late.”
One said: “Penny is a charismatic candidate but she just does not have the numbers, she needs to pick up the phone to Boris and strike a deal.”
The feeling is that if she can get a guarantee of a position like Foreign Secretary before the European Research Group (ERG) of Tory Brexiteer MPs meets on Monday she could make an impact.
Another source said: “A decision needs to be made quickly because the window is closing for her.”
Sources in Mr Johnson’s campaign – even though he has not declared – claim he is on 73 with more to come out tomorrow.
One Bring Back Boris leadership campaign organiser said: “We have more names who are set to declare and 73 already and the ERG haven’t even met yet.
“Boris should have the 100 he needs by Monday.”
The difficulty for the recently deposed Prime Minister is that senior members of the ERG have concerns about Mr Johnson after he reneged on his deal with them in 2019.
One senior MP said: “If they think the ERG is in the bag then they are wrong.”
If Brexiteers do not all back Mr Johnson then it could open the door to Suella Braverman or Kemi Badenoch, the next generation of party leaders on the right.
With a split vote this could lead to Mr Sunak being crowned uncontested as the only MP to get 100 nominations.
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In the last leadership election, Ms Mordaunt, the current Leader of the House ended up backing Liz Truss against Rishi Sunak but following Ms Truss’ humiliating departure after a mere 44 days in Downing Street, Ms Mordaunt has thrown her hat into the ring again.
In the rounds with MPs, she only missed out by five votes in beating Ms Truss to the final two and would have then been favourite to beat Mr Sunak.
In fact, until the final round Ms Mordaunt was in second place.
There had been some discussion that she, Mr Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt could form a triumvirate to run the Government before Ms Truss resigned.