Boris Johnson‘s rivals last night piled pressure on the former foreign secretary to take part in a string of TV debates.
Channel 4 News has proposed a programme on Sunday night featuring all seven remaining candidates.
The BBC is also planning a debate on Tuesday – after the second round of voting by Tory MPs, which will see at least one other candidate eliminated. ITV has proposed a head-to-head debate between the final two.
Mr Johnson is now the only candidate who has not agreed to the Channel 4 show, fuelling accusations that he is limiting his media appearances to avoid scrutiny – or making gaffes that could derail his campaign.
Boris Johnson is now the only candidate who has not agreed to the Channel 4 debate show, fuelling accusations that he is limiting his media appearances to avoid scrutiny
In a video released yesterday on Twitter, Michael Gove appeared to bait Mr Johnson, saying: ‘It’s all to play for. Very much looking forward to the Channel 4 and BBC debates – hope to see all the other candidates there.’
Similarly, Dominic Raab said: ‘I think the TV debates coming up are a great opportunity to test the views… we’re all talking about.’
Rory Stewart went further, saying: ‘Everybody has accepted except Boris, so again if I could please ask Boris to come forward into these debates and join us.
‘Let’s have the debates and let the public make this decision, not just the Members of Parliament.’
Dominic Raab said: ‘I think the TV debates coming up are a great opportunity to test the views… we’re all talking about’
Rory Stewart went further, saying: ‘Everybody has accepted except Boris, so again if I could please ask Boris to come forward into these debates and join us’
A source in the Sajid Javid camp said: ‘The future of the Conservative Party cannot be decided behind closed doors.
‘Everybody in the party should see this contest as an opportunity to put their ideas to the country.’
Amber Rudd, one of Jeremy Hunt’s most prominent supporters, said candidates had a ‘duty’ to take part, telling the Mail: ‘The Conservative Party needs to remember we are not just choosing our leader, we are choosing the next prime minister.’
Michael Gove appeared to bait Mr Johnson, saying that he ‘hoped to see all the all the other candidates’ at the debates
Officially, Team Boris say they are still ‘in discussions’ with the broadcasters and have not ruled out taking part.
Allies say he is already rehearsing for them with his team. But last night one Johnson supporter, former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, said there was ‘no reason’ for Mr Johnson to join the debate with all six other candidates ‘because he is some way ahead’.
He told the Huffington Post website: ‘It depends on the format and also how many, because he’s some way ahead so there’s no reason for him to debate with everybody.’
Another Johnson-supporting MP warned that a six-way debate could be a ‘gift to Jeremy Corbyn’ if the candidates ended up ‘tearing strips’ off each other.
Mr Johnson faces the prospect of being ’empty chaired’ by Channel 4 if he does not attend. A source said it would ‘keep a lectern there for those who don’t bother to turn up so everyone can see the space’.