Gove tells May camp: lend me support to stop 'scary' Leadsom
Michael Gove's senior allies are urging MPs backing Theresa May to vote tactically to block Andrea Leadsom because they are "seriously frightened" about the prospect of her becoming prime minister.
Nick Boles, the Justice Secretary's campaign manager, has sent a text to MPs telling them that it would be in the "national interest" for them to stop Ms Leadsom getting to the run-off, as she may win the vote of party members.
Mr Boles also claimed that he will "sleep easy at night" if Ms May becomes the next prime minister, adding that Mr Gove is prepared to spend "two months taking a good thrashing from Theresa, if that's what it takes".
The message prompted anger amid claims it attacks the Tory grassroots for backing Ms Leadsom weeks before the final vote. It also emerged that MPs are being "pressured" into voting for Ms Leadsom by Leave.EU, which has bombarded Ms May's supporters with "over 70 emails" demanding they back her for leader or face losing support in their constituencies.
Ms Leadsom has faced criticism for her links to the Ukip-backing group after she failed to deny she is working with them earlier this week.
David Morris, a Tory MP who backed Stephen Crabb but is now supporting Ms May, received a telephone call from Mr Gove.
"He said to me that he knows I'm voting Theresa, but would I think about giving him the chance to be in the final," he said.
"I thanked him for his honesty and said he has always been good to me, but I was backing Theresa."
Ms Leadsom's allies warned that it will be an "absolute scandal" if votes were transferred to Mr Gove in an attempt to keep her off the final ballot.
A source close to Ms Leadsom said: "MPs have to understand that this is the killer point, the point at which the whole process hinges. If Andrea is the victim of transferring of votes, that's a scandal - it would prevent the Conservative Party from having a proper choice."
Ms May has repeatedly insisted that she will do "no deals" and that she wants a "proper contest".
Grant Shapps, the former party chairman, last night called for the leadership election to be sped up and concluded by the end of July to end uncertainty, as Mr Gove wrote to every MP asking for their support.
Last night, Mr Boles said: "I believe the next PM needs to be someone with experience of leadership at the highest levels in government.
"Only two of the remaining candidates meet that criterion: Theresa May and Michael Gove."
Asked about the text message, he said: "I have no comment to make."
Ms Leadsom's supporters claimed that "well over 70" Conservative MPs were now backing her.