Up to five runners and riders to become the UK’s next Prime Minister could drop out of the race by Monday unless they can secure extra backers over the weekend, The Daily Telegraph reports. Prime Ministerial hopefuls who have failed to garner the minimum required number of MPs to endorse them would have to concede defeat and withdraw. Those MPs include Andrea Leadsom, Rory Stewart, Sam Gyimah, Esther McVey and Mark Harper, all of whom had fewer than eight MPs publicly backing them at the time of writing.
The potential dropouts could see the race whittled down to just six contenders, significantly reducing what had become a crowded field.
Prominent Tories Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith have blasted the contest, with Mr Clarke labelling it “shambolic” and Mr Duncan Smith calling for the rules to be changed to avoid “chaos”.
Before the party changed its rules to speed up the race earlier this week Remainer Mr Clarke said of the contest: “It is all a shambles and is in danger of becoming a rather tragic farce unless some order is brought into it.”
Meanwhile Mr Duncan Smith said although “I don’t think there’s a problem there are so many candidates” he believed “we need to present a face of a party that actually can get jobs done”.
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The former Conservative leader added: “We don’t want to have this meandering around looking like chaos.”
The number of candidates has already been reduced upon James Cleverly and Kit Malthouse pulling out earlier this week.
Mr Gyimah, who is the only candidate still calling for a second Brexit referendum and campaigning for Remain, admitted he only had three MPs endorsing his bid but insisted there would be more to come.
He said: “I will get to the starting line.”
Leader of the House of Commons Ms Leadsom, who ran to become Prime Minister in 2016 before Theresa May beat her to the office, only has two public endorsements.
Meanwhile Ms McVey and Mr Stewart have five and Mike Harper six.
Mr Johnson currently has the most publicly-declared backers, with 43, followed by Michael Gove (28), Jeremy Hunt (26), Dominic Raab (22), Sajid Javid (16) and Matt Hancock (12).
Staunch Brexiteer Mr Johnson remains the bookies’ favourite in the race, despite a YouGov poll showing 26 percent of the public thinking he would make a good Prime Minister, with 55 percent thinking he would be a bad Prime Minister, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Friends of Mr Johnson believe as the front runner he could be ganged up on in the scheduled TV debates.
But Dominic Raab, also a key contender, said: “This is a crossroads moment in our history.
“All of us standing to be Prime Minister should have our plans scrutinised.
“This is not a time for hiding away or ducking the tough questions.
“It is time to debate our plans. That is why all the major contenders to be our next Prime Minister should agree to televised leadership debates.”
The Tory Party issued a formal call for nominations on Friday, with the deadline set for Monday.
The first round of voting to see off the weakest candidates will occur on Thursday.