As Boris and Raab allies trade early blows in battle for No 10, Gove edges into the lead

Allies of Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson exchanged fire yesterday in the opening skirmishes of a Tory leadership battle for the party’s Brexit wing.

Brexiteer MPs backing Mr Raab accused his rival of ‘flipping’ at the last minute and showing ‘poor judgment’ after Mr Johnson announced he was backing the Prime Minister’s deal.

One MP said: ‘It’s a massive cock up, isn’t it? It doesn’t show very good judgment, does it? Boris backs a deal he might not even get to vote on. 

Imagine being the standard bearer for the Eurosceptics then flipping at the last minute to back the deal. One up for Dom, one down for Boris.’

Brexiteer MPs backing Mr Raab accused his rival of 'flipping' at the last minute and showing 'poor judgment' after Mr Johnson (pictured in Westminster) announced he was backing the Prime Minister's deal

Brexiteer MPs backing Mr Raab accused his rival of 'flipping' at the last minute and showing 'poor judgment' after Mr Johnson (pictured in Westminster) announced he was backing the Prime Minister's deal

Brexiteer MPs backing Mr Raab accused his rival of ‘flipping’ at the last minute and showing ‘poor judgment’ after Mr Johnson (pictured in Westminster) announced he was backing the Prime Minister’s deal

Meanwhile, supporters of Michael Gove suggested he might have as many as 50 MPs signed up to back him.

One minister said the Environment Secretary was someone with ‘impeccable Leave credentials’ who had also ‘bothered to reach out to Remainers’.

According to Paddy Power, Mr Gove is the favourite to be next Tory leader at 7/2, followed by Mr Johnson (4/1), Jeremy Hunt (8/1), Mr Raab (8/1), Sajid Javid (12/1) and Matt Hancock (18/1).

Last night Mr Johnson appeared to win the backing of Donald Trump. In a response to a question about the Tory leadership battle and Brexit, the President replied: ‘I like Boris Johnson a lot. He’s a friend of mine.’

Mr Johnson revealed his change of heart on the withdrawal agreement at a meeting of the European Research Group of MPs on Tuesday night, just minutes after Theresa May said she was prepared to step down as leader if her deal passed the Commons. 

He had previously described the deal as a ‘suicide vest’ but now fears Brexit may be lost altogether and doesn’t want to be blamed if it is.

Former Brexit secretary Mr Raab is among a small group of 30 to 40 Tory Eurosceptics refusing to fall in line, and yesterday he endorsed a so-called ‘managed’ No Deal.

Mr Raab told Sky News that Mrs May should go back to Brussels and demand a ‘legally-binding’ exit from the backstop and if that didn’t work she should discuss how to manage a No Deal Brexit.

Former Brexit secretary Mr Raab is among a small group of 30 to 40 Tory Eurosceptics refusing to fall in line

Former Brexit secretary Mr Raab is among a small group of 30 to 40 Tory Eurosceptics refusing to fall in line

Former Brexit secretary Mr Raab is among a small group of 30 to 40 Tory Eurosceptics refusing to fall in line

Speaking outside his home in Surrey, he said: ‘I think this is a time for pragmatism and realism.

One thing I would like to see is us go back to the EU again, keep the arm of friendship open, explain that there is still time for an exchange of letters providing a legally-binding exit from the backstop. 

I know a lot of people will say, well, the EU just won’t move; that’s been treated as a fixture of these negotiations, rather than being tested.

‘But if they still don’t move, I think we should have sensible conversations over the two weeks we’ve got left over the suite of No Deal arrangements that can be made to mitigate any of the potential damage on either side, to European jobs and livelihoods, but also to UK jobs and livelihoods.’

An ally of Mr Johnson said: ‘His position is the same. He is going to vote for the deal. If it doesn’t go through he’s not going to get the blame.’

Asked about Mr Raab’s intervention, he said: ‘Apart from the ERG I don’t know who you’re impressing.’

A report yesterday suggested Mr Johnson had told friends the deal was ‘dead’ despite his last-minute conversion. Sources close to Mr Johnson denied the claim. 

Supporters of Environment Secretary Michael Gove suggested he might have as many as 50 MPs signed up to back him

Supporters of Environment Secretary Michael Gove suggested he might have as many as 50 MPs signed up to back him

Supporters of Environment Secretary Michael Gove suggested he might have as many as 50 MPs signed up to back him

Meanwhile, other potential candidates were also gearing up their campaigns. Allies of Health Secretary Mr Hancock were yesterday calling MPs to sound out whether they might support him.

It was also claimed Home Secretary Mr Javid had floated the idea of a ‘dream ticket’ with him as Prime Minister and Mr Gove as Chancellor.

The idea, which was dismissed out of hand by Mr Javid’s friends, would be used to shut Mr Johnson out of Downing Street, it was said.

A senior Tory source described the idea as a ‘grown-up and sensible solution’ that would bring ‘stability’ at the top of the party, adding: ‘We know Michael Gove’s limitations in terms of public appeal.

Sajid Javid has broad support around the country, the polling evidence proves that. And the fact that he has a back story that no one else in the party has.’

In a speech to business chiefs yesterday, Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss endorsed the idea of securing a Canada-style trade deal – based on the free trade agreement negotiated between the EU and Canada – in the second round of the negotiations.

Miss Truss, who backed Remain, told the British Chambers of Commerce conference: ‘I’m a free trader, I believe that we need to open our economy to the rest of the world.’

It was also claimed Home Secretary Mr Javid (pictured in Downing Street) had floated the idea of a 'dream ticket' with him as Prime Minister and Mr Gove as Chancellor

It was also claimed Home Secretary Mr Javid (pictured in Downing Street) had floated the idea of a 'dream ticket' with him as Prime Minister and Mr Gove as Chancellor

It was also claimed Home Secretary Mr Javid (pictured in Downing Street) had floated the idea of a ‘dream ticket’ with him as Prime Minister and Mr Gove as Chancellor

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