Rishi Sunak supporters are claiming that he has the votes to progress to the next stage of the Conservative leadership contest.
Those wanting to win the keys to Downing Street have until Monday to secure the backing of 100 MPs, and must meet this threshold to make it onto the ballot paper.
This means there can only be a maximum of three candidates for the top job, and the field will be narrowed to two by MPs before heading to the wider party membership for a vote – unless Conservative politicians unify behind one person.
The latest Sky News tally suggests Mr Sunak has 85 Tory MPs supporting him, while Boris Johnson has 47 and Penny Mordaunt has 19.
But so far, only Ms Mordaunt – the leader of the House of Commons – has actually announced her intention to run.
Last night, Conservative MP Sir James Duddridge confirmed to Sky News that he had spoken to Mr Johnson, who had told him he was “up for it”.
Candidates will spend the weekend shoring up support from Conservative colleagues as the deadline looms for nominations – with Mr Johnson flying back from his Caribbean holiday in economy class.
The timetable of the contest has been sped up to ensure that a winner is finalised within a week.
It was quickly organised after Liz Truss announced her resignation on Thursday following weeks of market turmoil and unrest within her party as a result of the tax-cutting mini-budget announced to Parliament last month.
She fired her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, with his replacement Jeremy Hunt later reversing nearly all her policies.
It was not enough to quell anger among backbenchers, and she became the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister with just 44 days in office.
Whoever does get in power will need to decide quickly whether they will go ahead with Mr Hunt’s medium-term fiscal plan, which is set to be announced on 31 October.
Reports claim Ms Mordaunt has already held talks with the chancellor to say she would proceed with his measures, and that he would remain leading the Treasury under her leadership.
In the last leadership race, Mr Sunak was runner-up to Ms Truss, while Ms Mordaunt came in third place.
If Mr Johnson were to take the crown, it would come less than eight weeks since he left Downing Street after ministers resigned in droves over his handling of allegations against the then deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.
Former Tory leader Lord William Hague said the ex-PM’s return to power would lead to a “death spiral” for party, telling Times Radio: “I think it’s possibly the worst idea I’ve heard of in the 46 years I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party.”
But other MPs insisted he was the best person for the job, with Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan saying he could “continue to deliver for the country and already has a mandate”.
Mr Javid, who announced his support for Mr Sunak on Twitter, said it was “abundantly clear” his candidate was the right person for the job – despite him supporting Ms Truss in the last contest – adding: “The only way for our party to reclaim our values and recover our reputation for stewardship is to move on from mistakes of the past and come together to focus on the future.”
However, Tory MP Robbie Moore said Ms Mordaunt was “the right person to take, not just the Conservative Party forward, but our nation forward”, claiming she had the ability to “unite” the Tories and deliver on their 2019 manifesto.
Opposition parties are demanding an immediate general election regardless of who wins, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer saying the British people “deserve so much better than this revolving door of chaos”.
To register your interest in joining the audience please email [email protected]