Boris Johnson gets Tory leadership boost as Matt Hancock backs ‘unique' frontrunner to deliver Brexit
His endorsement came after the clear frontrunner was criticised for failing to appear in the first of the televised leadership debates staged by Channel 4 on Sunday evening.
Writing in The Times, Mr Hancock said: "Having considered all the options, I'm backing Boris 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 said he believed Mr Johnson had a "unique personality" which would bring the Tories together behind a Brexit deal, adding: "We need that unity in the Conservative party, and then in the country. Let's move forward."
It comes after contenders including Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt launched a charm offensive after Mr Hancock dropped out of the leadership race on Friday, praising his candidacy.
Brilliant campaign from my friend @MattHancock - and more importantly the right message. Our party & government needs to renew for the next generation, with an agenda beyond Brexit. And whatever happens in coming weeks Matt will be key to driving that https://t.co/YFIrEaEbL8— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid)June 14, 2019
Mr Hunt, who came second in the first ballot on Thursday, asked: "Where is Boris? If his team won't allow him out with five pretty friendly colleagues, how is is he going to fare with 27 European countries?"
The sharpest exchanges were however dominated by Dominic Raab's refusal to rule out suspending Parliament to push through a no-deal Brexit.
The former Brexit secretary said he did not think it was likely "but it is not illegal".
"The moment that we telegraph to the EU we are not willing to walk away at the end of October we take away our best shot of a deal," he said.
International development secretary Rory Stewart said shutting down Parliament was "undemocratic" and "deeply disturbing" and would not work.
Mr Hunt said it was the "wrong thing to do" while home secretary Mr Javid said: "You don't deliver democracy by trashing democracy.
"We are not selecting a dictator."
Mr Raab warned that Parliament could not stop a determined prime minister, saying: "It is near impossible to stop a government that is serious."
That drew a sharp retort from environment secretary Michael Gove who told him: "I will defend our democracy.
"You cannot take Britain out of the EU against the will of Parliament."
Additional reporting by Press Association.