Johnson camp urges 'vanity candidates' to quit contest
Supporters want quick Tory leadership race to select next prime minister
Boris Johnson's supporters have called on "vanity candidates" to drop out of the Tory leadership race to speed up the process of selecting the UK's next prime minister.
The former foreign secretary was backed by 114 Tory MPs in the first round of voting yesterday - 71 more than his nearest rival, Jeremy Hunt.
Seven of the 10 candidates went through to the next round of voting, but the weakest four to remain in the contest only managed 89 votes between them. They came under pressure to pull out so the field can be whittled down to the final two during the second vote next Tuesday.
It is believed Matt Hancock, UK health secretary, is discussing with his backers whether to pull out and throw his weight behind his long-time friend Sajid Javid.
If Mr Hancock's 20 supporters all switched to the British Home Secretary, it would give him 43 votes, putting him neck and neck with Mr Hunt. Mr Hancock said his 20 votes were "more than I could have hoped for".
Michael Gove's campaign was in trouble after he came a distant third and some of his backers said they would now switch to the front-runner.
The environment secretary, once seen as the most likely challenger to Mr Johnson, managed just 37 votes after his campaign lost momentum in the wake of his cocaine use confession.
With only six weeks left until Parliament's summer recess, Tory MPs are impatient to choose a new leader so progress can be made to enable Britain to leave the EU before October 31.
Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Mark Harper were all eliminated after failing to secure the required number of votes to make it to the second round, and only three - Mr Johnson, Mr Hunt and Mr Gove - have enough votes to pass the threshold of 33 needed to get through to the third stage. Dominic Raab received 27 votes, Mr Javid 23, Mr Hancock 20 and Rory Stewart 19.
One prominent supporter of Mr Johnson described the four men as "vanity" candidates, adding: "The race is between Boris, Hunt and Gove. Anyone else who tries to carry on is being indulgent."
The former London mayor has more than a third of MPs backing him, guaranteeing him a place in the final two unless they desert him.
If next Tuesday's vote was just between three hopefuls, it would mean the final two would be known that day, enabling the party to proceed straight away to the second phase of the contest, when party members pick the winner following a series of hustings events around the UK.
The current schedule means voting among MPs will continue until next Thursday.
Another well-known name who is backing Mr Johnson said: "The honest truth is that most of the other candidates have done much worse than they would have expected, and their supporters will start peeling away to back someone who has a realistic chance of making it to the final two.
"The best thing they could do now is to duck out, otherwise they could face the humiliation of their numbers actually going down in the next vote.
"I don't think you will see all seven candidates still in the race by Tuesday."
However, the remaining candidates insisted the fight remained wide open.
The first televised hustings will take place on Sunday evening, when at least five of the survivors are expected to face off on Channel 4. Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have yet to confirm they will take part, but the other contenders believe they can use the event to build momentum.
Supporters of Mr Hunt insisted he had made a "strong start" despite winning the support of only one in seven MPs. He is now 8-1 with Ladbrokes bookmakers to become the next Tory leader, with Mr Johnson 1-5 on and Mr Stewart third favourite at 16-1.