Scottish secretary David Mundell has declared he will not vote for Boris Johnson in any round of the Conservative leadership contest, claiming it is “complacent” to assume he will win.
Mr Mundell revealed he voted by proxy for health secretary Matt Hancock in the first round of the process, describing him as a “committed Unionist” and a “man for the future”.
Speaking at the opening of a new UK Government hub in Edinburgh yesterday, he suggested Mr Johnson’s attempt to become Prime Minister may flounder when he was put under real scrutiny.
“We’re a long way from the conclusion of this race,” he said. “Obviously Mr Johnson is the frontrunner. I didn’t support him in today’s ballot and I won’t be supporting him in any future part of this process.
“I think it would be complacent to assume that he is just going to win the exercise.
“It’s very important as we go through the television debates next week, as we go through the interaction with members, that all candidates are held to account, their positions challenged.”
Despite saying he would refuse to vote for the former foreign secretary in subsequent rounds as other candidates are eliminated, Mr Mundell insisted he was not an “anybody, but Boris” campaigner.
“One thing I’m sure about – although there are a number of matters where clearly I don’t agree with Mr Johnson, he is a very staunch Unionist and he is committed to keeping our United Kingdom together,” he said.
The Scottish secretary also denied he had ruled out serving in Mr Johnson’s Cabinet despite previously stating he would find it “extremely difficult”.
Asked in December if he could stay in the Cabinet in such circumstances, he said: “Mr Johnson and I don’t agree on a whole range of issues and I don’t see myself being able to serve in that way.”
But asked the same question yesterday, he replied: “I have never said that I wouldn’t.”
A source close to Mr Mundell said later: “Being Secretary of State for Scotland in a Boris Johnson Cabinet would not necessarily be the easiest gig on planet Earth.”
But they insisted it was wrong to assume the former foreign secretary would “automatically be a disaster” by driving up support for Scottish independence.
Asked why he had backed Mr Hancock, who won only 20 votes in the first round, Mr Mundell said: “Matt has a credible plan for Brexit, he’s a committed Unionist ... he’s also a dynamic young man.”