Matt Hancock said he is backing Boris Johnson “as the best candidate” to lead the Conservative Party and become the next prime minister.
The endorsement, which will be a major boost for Johnson’s campaign as Hancock is a prominent Europhile, came despite his refusal to attend the first Tory leadership candidates’ TV debate on Sunday night, which featured the five other contenders.
Hancock dropped out of the leadership race on Friday after he came sixth in the first round of voting. He won only 20 votes from Tory MPs in the first ballot which was held on Thursday.
At the time he said the health minister hadn’t decided who to endorse, but would “talk to all the other candidates”.
On Sunday night, Hancock announced with an article in The Times that he had decided to back Johnson as “the best candidate to unite the Conservative party so we can deliver Brexit and then unite the country behind an open, ambitious, forward-looking agenda, delivered with the energy that gets stuff done”.
He added: “Boris has run a disciplined campaign and is almost certainly going to be our next prime minister.”
On Tuesday, Tory MPs will vote for the second time, which will whittle down the number of candidates to two by Thursday.
The final two will then be put to the party’s 160,000 members, who will select the winner through a postal ballot.