Gove campaign manager apologises after urging May backers to block Leadsom
Michael Gove's campaign manager has been forced to apologise after being caught trying to get Theresa May supporters to switch sides in order to block Andrea Leadsom from the final run-off in the Tory leadership battle.
Nick Boles insisted the Justice Secretary was unaware of the plot to persuade backers of the Home Secretary to vote tactically in Thursday's crunch ballot by MPs which chooses the two contenders grassroots members will decide between.
Mr Boles took to Twitter to announce he had apologised to Mr Gove, stating: "He did not know about it let alone authorise it. And it does not reflect his views."
The storm erupted after the Justice Secretary was confronted at election hustings over the texts sent by Mr Boles to scores of MPs.
The text said Mr Boles thought it was "overwhelmingly likely" Mrs May would triumph, but he was "seriously frightened" that if Ms Leadsom made the final two she could connect with members in the way Iain Duncan Smith had previously.
The text said: " I respect the fact that you want Theresa May to be the Prime Minister. It is overwhelmingly likely that she will be, and if she does I will sleep easily at night.
"But I am seriously frightened about the risk of allowing Andrea Leadsom onto the membership ballot.
"What if Theresa stumbles? Are we really confident that the membership won't vote for a fresh face who shares their attitudes about much of modern life, like they did with IDS?
"Michael doesn't mind spending two months taking a good thrashing from Theresa if that is what it takes to put the party's interest and the national interest, surely we must all work together to stop AL?"
When Mr Gove was challenged about the text at the hustings, a pro-May MP said he met the question with "a sort of giggle, and then he sat down. He didn't disown it, because so many MPs have received it, it is quite difficult to disown it."
Former leader Mr Duncan Smith moved to brush off the anti-Leadsom text, saying: "People with knives will end up stabbing themselves. I do think emails or texts like that are failing to smell the coffee, wake up and recognise we want to come back together, and govern as a Conservative Party, that we can get on with each other and do not want to spend the whole time stabbing each other in the back."
The row came as Ms Leadsom published her CV in a bid to clear up controversy over her past business roles after it was claimed by opponents that she had exaggerated her experience.
The hustings also saw Ms Leadsom say that she would not be releasing her tax returns, as other candidates have, unless she made the run-off.
The minister told MPs that they could come to see a summary of her tax affairs personally if they wanted to.
Mr Gove was also challenged for the first time at hustings about what some MPs see as his "betrayal" of Boris Johnson, but the Justice Secretary said he had decided to run himself because he thought the ex-London mayor was not suited for the job.
Referring to unguarded comments recorded by Sky News by Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke in which he referred to Mrs May as "a bloody difficult woman", the Home Secretary joked that the next person to take that view of her would be Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president.
The hustings came as Conservative MPs who support all three remaining leadership candidates are urging the party to speed up the contest so a new prime minister is chosen by the end of the month.
A growing group of around 30 MPs have signed a letter written by former Tory chairman Grant Shapps, which calls on the party to give members three weeks to pick a leader after the third place candidate is eliminated on Thursday.
The Home Secretary is expected to be confirmed on Thursday as one of the two contenders chosen by MPs to go forward in a vote of around 150,000 Conservative members to elect a new leader - and prime minister - on September 9.