TWO anti-No Deal Ministers backed Rory Stewart as he scooped up MPs in the leadership contest.
Rivals admitted he was close to getting through Tuesday’s second round after bagging the support of Tobias Ellwood and Margot James among others.
Both were backers of Matt Hancock.
Ms James, Digital Minister, revealed her endorsement after the Channel 4 debate. She said he was “energetic, determined and embracing the centre ground”.
Defence Minister Mr Ellwood said he would “electrify” the contest.
Rival camps claimed the Aid Secretary was now almost certain of reaching the 33 MP cut off to get through Tuesday’s second round – as long as he doesn’t come last.
‘BORIS IN ONE CORNER RORY IN ANOTHER’
Justice Secretary and Rory campaign ally David Gauke said Tory MPs wanted to see Mr Stewart survive until Tuesday night’s live BBC TV debate – which Boris Johnson has agreed to do.
He told The Sun: “Rory is the only candidate Boris would fear. He’s the David to Boris’ Goliath.” Mr Stewart secured 19 votes in the first round last Thursday – with unconfirmed allegations that Theresa May could have been among them.
Downing Street refused to comment. Allies of Mr Stewart joked they doubted whether Philip May knew.
Mr Ellwood- another fiercely anti No-Deal Tory – said he was backing Mr Stewart to ensure Boris Johnson wasn’t given an easy “coronation”.
He told Sky News: “I want to see Boris tested. The nation is watching this.
“Who will electrify this contest, who will get him to raise his game?”
“Boris in one corner, Rory in another. That is a competition that is exciting, so bring that on.”