A Boris Johnson-led government would rapidly collapse when faced with key decisions on Brexit, his Tory leadership rival, Jeremy Hunt, has warned.
The Foreign Secretary said Mr Johnson, the front-runner in the leadership contest, had put together a “fragile” coalition of supporters and opponents of a no-deal Brexit which would quickly disintegrate in office.
His warning came as Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said around a dozen Conservative MPs could be prepared to support a vote of no-confidence in the Government to prevent a no-deal break with the EU.
“I think a dozen or so Members of Parliament would be on our side, would be voting against supporting a no-deal and that would include ministers as well as backbenchers,” Mr Ellwood told BBC One’s Panorama programme.
Mr Hunt said Mr Ellwood’s comments underlined the danger of pushing to leave the EU by October 31 – as Mr Johnson has promised – without a majority in Parliament.
“He is going to come to power on a very fragile coalition of people like Matt Hancock, who wants no-deal taken off the table, Mark Francois, who wants no-deal,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“Sometimes in politics you can fudge and get away with it but in the case of Brexit you are going to have to make decisions immediately and that very fragile coalition will collapse immediately when you have to make those decisions.
“If that happens we won’t have another leadership contest, we will have Jeremy Corbyn in No 10 and there won’t be any Brexit at all.”
Mr Johnson used his weekly column in the Daily Telegraph to reaffirm his commitment to deliver Brexit by the end of October in an apparent attempt to refocus attention away from his private life.
He wrote: “We must leave the EU on October 31 come what may. It will honour the referendum result, it will focus the minds of EU negotiators.
“We are just over four months away from the date on which, by law, we must leave the EU, and this time we are not going to bottle it. We are not going to fail.
“This time we are not going to shrink in fear from the exit, as we have on the last two occasions.”
The former foreign secretary remains under pressure to explain why police were called to the home he shares with partner Carrie Symonds following a reported late-night row.
Mr Hunt sidestepped questions about whether Mr Johnson is a fit person to be prime minister, suggesting he needs to earn the trust of voters.
“The way to earn that trust with Conservative Party members and with the country is to subject yourself to scrutiny to answer questions about what you actually want to do,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He said it was “incredibly disrespectful” of Mr Johnson to refuse to take part in any head-to-head television debates until after ballot papers have gone out to party members, by which time many of them will have already voted.
In an article in the Times, Mr Hunt accused Mr Johnson of cowardice, saying a new prime minister needed the “legitimacy” of having arguments subjected to proper media scrutiny.
“Only then can you walk through the front door of No 10 with your head held high instead of slinking through the back door, which is what Boris appears to want,” he wrote.
He added: “Don’t be a coward, Boris. Man up and show the nation you can cope with the intense scrutiny the most difficult job in the country will involve.”
Former cabinet minister Priti Patel, who is backing Mr Johnson, denied that he was deliberately avoiding media scrutiny.
“Boris is appearing at something like 18 hustings around the country, has already appeared last week on the BBC debate and is very much undergoing scrutiny through the media every day,” she told the Today programme.
Mr Johnson’s campaign was rocked by the disclosure that police were called to the home he shares with Ms Symonds by a neighbour who claimed to have been “frightened and concerned” after hearing shouting and banging coming from the property.
At a leadership hustings on Saturday, he repeatedly refused to explain what went on at the south London flat in the early hours of Friday morning, saying party members did not want “to hear about that kind of thing”.
Ms Patel said he was entitled not to answer questions about his private life, and suggested that the allegations against him were politically motivated.
“We are now seeing what has become, day after day, a very clear politically-motivated series of personal attacks on Boris,” she said.