Boris Johnson’s march towards No 10 has hit trouble as senior Tories back away from his leadership bid because of his willingness to embrace a crash-out Brexit.
The overwhelming favourite to succeed Theresa May suffered a backlash when pro-EU Tories, led by Rory Stewart, questioned his fitness for the job if he threatened a no-deal departure this autumn.
Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, who has hinted she could back Mr Johnson, refused three times to describe him as an honest politician.
I would be very concerned about somebody who is too enthusiastic about no deal, she warned, while ruling herself out of the race.
The charge was led by Mr Stewart, a rival for the top job, who dramatically ruled out serving under Mr Johnson because he wasn’t ready to carry out a damaging, unnecessary and dishonest no-deal Brexit.
Significantly, the international development secretary revealed the frontrunner had assured him a no deal was not his plan only to later vow to take the UK out in October deal or no deal.
Margot James, the digital minister, accused fellow members of the One Nation group of Tories of a “mealy-mouthed” willingness to back Mr Johnson in order to save their seats.
Speaking to The Independent, Ms James revealed she would back a Final Say referendum to block a no deal, adding: I don’t trust Boris and I don’t think he is up to the job.