Gove leads Operation Stop Boris in race to be the next PM: Johnson‘s old foe launches attack on the Tory leadership front-runner as Hunt, Hancock and Stewart all join the criticism – but Liz Truss bows out of the race

Michael Gove has today announced his candidacy for the with a veiled attack on old rival and front runner . 

In what has been perceived as a stab at the former Mayor, the Environment Secretary claimed that he is more ‘capable‘ and said the next leader cannot just ‘respect‘ the vote but must have the ‘wherewithal to deliver it‘. 

This echoes the 2016 Conservative contest when Gove famously sank Johnson‘s campaign by quitting as its chairman and insisting he was unfit to be leader. 

Gove‘s entry into the race for Downing Street grows an already crowded field of prime ministerial hopefuls which has seen big beasts Dominic Raab and Andrea Leadsom set out their leadership stalls today. 

But Liz Truss, who has been ramping up efforts to appeal to the free-market wing of the party and was supposedly poised to make her pitch, announced that she would not be standing. 

Johnson, who is popular with the Tory grassroots and is perceived as the favourite to succeed the embattled Theresa May, has come under fire from Gove who reportedly claims to be more ‘capable‘ and have the better ‘track record‘. 

In a podcast, Gove will say that ‘it is not enough for them [next leader] to just believe in Brexit. The next leader must respect it, believe in it and, crucially, have the wherewithal to deliver it,‘ according to . 

Despite last week hailing his former rival as a man of ‘intellect‘, this latest jibe will heap tension on the warring pair who fell out in the aftermath of the referendum. 

Gove also tried to rally Brexiteer MPs to his campaign by telling them that while Johnson was the face of the Vote Leave team, he put in the grunt work of TV debates, according to .

Westminster then went into meltdown as Gove, who had been chairing Johnson‘s campaign, sensationally threw his hat in the ring by insisting that the former Mayor was unfit to be prime minister.   

And the Environment Secretary is not alone in trying to leapfrog Johnson in the polls and position himself as Mrs May‘s successor.

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab launched his own leadership bid today in an article for the Mail on Sunday.

Mr Hancock took stroopwafels in for Cabinet the day after he was pulled up for eating them on television

The hardline Eurosceptic pledged to ‘demonstrate unflinching resolve‘ to secure Britain‘s exit from the EU and vowed to leave with no deal if necessary.  

This position was mirrored by fellow Brexiteer and candidate Andrea Leadsom who told the Sunday Times that she would be prepare to walk away from negotiations with the 27-member bloc to secure a timely departure. 

Leadsom‘s withdrawal in 2016 paved the way for May to take the keys to Number 10 after claims that being a mother gave her an edge over the then Home Secretary backfired.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is seen as a dark horse in the race and as a converted Brexiteer is positioning himself as a unity candidate.  

Johnson also took flak from development secretary and leadership contender Rory Stewart who said he would refused to serve in his cabinet.

It has also been revealed that former Prime Minister David Cameron could also be eyeing a comeback.

Brexiteer MPs fear the former Prime Minister could team up with his old ally George Osborne after claims that the ex-Chancellor privately hinted he harboured ambitions to return to government.

Any attempt by Mr Cameron to return to the Commons is likely to prove highly controversial. The Tory Party has been bitterly divided since the referendum which he called in 2016.

But allies point to Mr Cameron’s record as the only Tory leader to win a Commons majority in the past 27 years, and say that at the age of just 52, he has ‘three decades of public service left in him’.

One source claimed last night that friends of Mr Cameron had made discreet enquiries about standing in Sevenoaks – one of the safest Tory seats in the country – after the expected retirement of the sitting MP Sir Michael Fallon.

However, Mr Cameron denied last night that he planned to re-enter the Commons. 

Sliced up by the pizza club: How the secret plotters dealt a final blow to Theresa May as it is revealed the PM also broke down in tears BEFORE her resignation speech 

 By Glen Owen for the Mail On Sunday

Theresa May was nearly 20 minutes into Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday when the door of Andrea Leadsom’s grand Commons office swung open.

Out marched Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, shorn of his usual baritone joviality, followed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Treasury Chief Secretary Liz Truss.

Last out was a pensive Ms Leadsom, who turned to Ms Truss as they filed down the wood-panelled corridor behind the Speaker’s Chair and said: ‘So that’s what to do. Let’s stay in touch on the WhatsApp’.

Later that evening, Ms Leadsom resigned as Commons Leader. It was the final plunge of the knife from the now notorious ‘pizza club’. The Mail on Sunday first revealed in November the cell of pro-Leave Cabinet Ministers which met in secret to try to stop Mrs May from diluting Brexit. Over boxes of takeaway pizzas, the group, which also included Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, would debate how to steer Mrs May towards a ‘purer’ Brexit – and whether to pull the plug on her premiership by resigning in concert. They even had their own WhatsApp group.

Until last week, they had largely pulled their punches, with the only resignation from a group member coming when Dominic Raab quit as Brexit Secretary.

But on Wednesday the mood was different. As the group sipped cups of tea and coffee, Ms Leadsom made clear her anger over Mrs May’s disastrous speech the previous day in which she had raised the prospect of holding a second referendum – an idea which was anathema to Brexiteer Ms Leadsom.

She told the group that the speech went further than what had been agreed in Cabinet and said she felt her position was untenable – although she stopped short of asking the others to follow her lead.

Ms Truss was also ‘spitting’, said sources: ‘The PM has reached the end of the road.’

Mr Gove made it clear that he thought Mrs May should abandon plans to make a final attempt to win Commons support for her Brexit deal. Mr Cox repeated the argument he had made in Tuesday’s Cabinet that the deal should never be put to a second referendum.

His views went down well in the room, but angered pro-Remain Ministers, with one saying: ‘This is the man who helped to push the PM towards striking a cross-party deal with Labour, which led us inevitably down the path to a “confirmatory” vote – and the man whose legal advice on the backstop helped to kill it.’

After Ms Leadsom’s resignation, and with backbenchers now in open mutiny, the Prime Minister realised the game was finally up, and started writing her resignation speech with her favoured adviser Keelan Carr.

It was as she prepared for the famous black door of No 10 to swing open to deliver her speech to the waiting media on Friday morning that Mrs May first broke into tears. Her appearance at the podium was delayed while aides helped her to recover her composure.

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However, there was some joy for Mrs May’s team on the emotional morning. Since she had already made her decision to go, when Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of backbenchers, paid a visit to Downing Street, it was no longer the expected showdown to demand her head. But it unexpectedly ended with Sir Graham losing his job as well.

Among the PM’s core team – including husband Philip, media adviser Robbie Gibb, chief of staff Gavin Barwell and party chairman Brandon Lewis – there had been suspicions that Sir Graham was ‘a little more devious’, according to a source, than his straight bat public persona. So when he signalled he could himself run to succeed Mrs May, they spotted their chance for revenge. ‘It was pointed out, as he should well have known as the apparent expert, that he’s technically the returning officer for the leadership contest, so if he was even thinking about running he should have recused himself immediately’, an insider said.

Sir Graham was shown to a side room to see if he would like to ‘have a think about his predicament’, but Mrs May’s team believe the fact he would have to stand down immediately came as a shock to him. He ended up being in the ante-room for close to an hour, before sheepishly putting out the contest timetable later that day in his deputy’s name. ‘There was a certain feeling of satisfaction to finally get one over on him,’ said a source.

Mrs May will spend the weekend brushing herself down at Chequers before heading to Brussels on Tuesday to meet her EU counterparts, including Angela Merkel.

While Mrs May’s relationship with France’s Emmanuel Macron has been at rock bottom since November, the two most powerful women in Europe have remained friendly.

Downing Street staff are also braced for drama during Donald Trump’s visit next month. Given his previous vocal support for both Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, No 10 expects major interventions from the President could spark an angry backlash from a ‘demob happy’ Mrs May.

She has previously expressed irritation with Mr Trump. During the 2017 G20 meeting in Hamburg, leaders and their aides were at loggerheads over climate change. Having squeezed into a tiny room to hammer out a compromise, it was an extremely stern ‘come on, Donald’ from a ‘headmistress-like’ Mrs May that finally got the President to back down.

What are the odds for the next prime minister?

Boris Johnson:

Former foreign secretary and mayor of London

Voted leave and has become an increasingly hardline Brexiteer 

As likely to make headlines over his private life, however, he is also distrusted by many tory MPs

Has recently lost a lot of weight and smartened up his appearance

Leadership odds 4/5

Dominic Raab: 

Shortlived Brexit secretary last year, replacing David Davis in the hot seat. He has won support from Davis and is in some circles regarded as more reliable than Johnson

But walked in November over terms agreed by PM

Voted for Brexit in 2016

Leadership odds 6/1 

Michael Gove:

Leading Vote Leave figure in 2016 who now backs PM‘s Brexit deal

Former journalist, 51, who stood for leadership in 2016

Was sacked as education minister by Theresa May

Later returned as Environment Minister. It‘s not clear however, that he will be able to win over the the membership

Leadship odds 10/1

Jeremy Hunt: 

The Foreign Secretary voted Remain

But has become an increasingly vocal Brexiteer

Former health secretary backs May‘s deal

Has approached ministers about running as a unity candidate and could receive significant cabinet support. He could suffer after being seen as sinking when May was on her way out

Leadership odds 14/1

Rory Stewart: 

Penrith MP, 46, is a former tutor to the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex

Old Etonian ex-soldier worked for Foreign Office in Iraq and set up a charity for the Prince of Wale sin Afghanistan

Voted for Remain and still backs a soft Brexit

He was only recently appointed to cabinet and has since mad errors during his public appearances 

Leadership odds 22/1

Andrea Leadsom:

The Commons‘ Leader challenged May in 2016

Voted for Brexit

Hosted Brexiteer ‘pizza party‘ plot last year

Increasingly outspoken Brexiteer, but will need to find a way to set herself apart from other candidates such as Johnson and Raab

Leadership odds 12/1

Penny Mordaunt:

The MP for Portsmouth North is a Royal Navy reservist

Highly regarded in Brexiteer circles

She has been consistently tipped to quit over Brexit but remains in the Cabinet

Once appeared in a swimsuit in a reality TV show. Some say she lack the experience required and would also need to appeal to younger voters 

Leadership odds 20/1

Sir Graham Brady:  

Quit on Friday as chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs

He went into Downing Street on Friday to tell Mrs May time was up

But his name was oddly missing from a later statement on leadership

Leadership odds 33/1

Sajid Javid:

The most senior cabinet contender, he was a front runner but seems to have slipped back

Voted Remain but wants to see Brexit delivered

Faced criticism as Home Secretary

But has taken a hard line on Shamima Begum case

Leadership odds 25/1

Matt Hancock:

The youngest front-runner at 40

A Remainer who now backs Theresa May‘s Brexit deal. He is known to have stayed out of the line of fire

He wants the party to look to the future and attract younger voters

Leadership odds 50/1

Steve Baker: 

He has been the ultimate hardliner on Brexit and takes a no compromise approach to the situation

Despite this he is known to be disliked by moderate Tory MPs who prefer the ERG party

What may stand in his favour is that he never backed Mrs May‘s deal when the likes of Johnson and Raab did

Leadership odds 50/1 

Esther McVey: 

She has previously said that Britain should be able to leave the EU without a deal and had maintained her hard line stance

Her supporters claim she is a strong media performer

Colleagues in Westminster were not impressed with her as a minister and it‘s not clear on how she will stand against other candiadates

Leadership odds: 50/1