Defeated Conservative leadership contender Esther McVey has come out in support of her former rival Boris Johnson.
Ms McVey, who finished bottom of the first ballot of Tory MPs, said the former foreign secretary had agreed to back her agenda for “blue collar Conservatism”.
Mr Johnson is favourite to succeed Theresa May as prime minister, having topped Thursday’s ballot with more than twice as many votes as his nearest rival, Jeremy Hunt.
The MP for Tatton wrote: “He has promised to deliver Brexit on October 31, deal or no deal, and has shown time and time again that he is a dynamic leader, capable of building a strong team around him that will deliver on his promises.
“Our country is crying out for strong, optimistic leadership and Boris is the man best equipped to take us out of the EU, to transform our country into an outward-looking, confident, self-governing nation, and to implement a policy agenda that will bring back the voters we have lost and ensure we don’t allow Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto of economic carnage to plunge us back into the dark ages.”
Ms McVey automatically slipped out of the race to lead her party after winning the backing of only nine other MPs in the first-round ballot.
Mr Johnson scooped the support of 114 Tory MPs, ahead of second-placed Mr Hunt on 43.
Andrea Leadsom and Mark Harper were also forced to step aside after failing to secure 17 votes, the minimum threshold for progressing to the next round.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, later chose to drop out of the race, leaving six MPs in contention.
Mr Johnson’s rivals on Saturday rejected calls for them to drop out of the race and allow the former London mayor an unchallenged “coronation”.
Senior party figures had reportedly hoped to avoid weeks of “blue on blue” attacks by convincing the underdogs to step aside.
But the home secretary, Sajid Javid, the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the former Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, and the international development secretary, Rory Stewart, all strongly condemned the plan.
All the candidates except Mr Johnson will take part on a televised debate on Channel 4 on Sunday evening, with Mr Johnson’s opponents pouring scorn on him for refusing to take part.
“If you can’t take the heat of the TV studios what chance of taking the heat of the negotiating chamber in Brussels?,” Mr Raab told The Daily Telegraph.
Channel 4 intends to present viewers with an empty podium in place of the former foreign secretary.
Mr Johnson has agreed to appear in the second debate on Tuesday – hosted by the BBC – after at least one contender is eliminated in a second round of voting by MPs earlier that day. Voting will continue until Thursday at the latest, when just two final candidates remain