Tory leadership hopefuls Rory Stewart and Michael Gove are “talking about combining forces” in a bid to defeat Boris Johnson.
International development secretary Stewart – who is currently the bookies third favourite to replace Theresa May in Number 10 – said on Wednesday that he and the environment secretary were in discussions about teaming up.
“We’ve been talking about combining forces because it’s clear that Boris is going into the last round,” he told BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.
“And the question is: 'Who is best-placed to sit on a stage with Boris Johnson and who is best-placed to ask the testing questions that need to be asked? And who has the vision of Britain that is going to excite people, get young people involved again in politics and show us that we can build a much better country?”
The revelation comes ahead of a third secret ballot by Tory MPs to decide which two leadership contenders should be put to the Conservative membership to choose from, with the least popular contestant on the Tory benches set to be eliminated.
In yesterday’s vote, Gove came in third with 44 votes – well over the threshold of 33 backers – while Stewart was towards the bottom of the table with 37 votes. Meanwhile, Johnson stormed ahead with 126 supporters.
When asked how he and Gove would reconcile their very different Brexit plans, Stewart said they would do it “by sitting down and thrashing through that very issue”.
While Gove is calling for a new deal from Brussels by October 31, Stewart has argued there is simply not enough time, calling for a citizen’s assembly if parliament cannot come to an agreement over the current deal.
“We would have to sit down and come to a common position on that,” the former prisons minister told Derbyshire. “I would have to say to him: ‘How is it that you think you’re going to get a different deal through Brussels? How would you get a no-deal through parliament?’
“And we would have to agree to compromise,” Stewart continued. “If neither of us were prepared to budge on our analysis of the situation then of course we couldn’t combine as a team.”