Jeremy Hunt has set himself up as the leading challenger to Boris Johnson after securing two key endorsements in 24 hours.
The Foreign Secretary won the backing of Penny Mordaunt, the Defence Secretary, at his campaign launch, after the Work and Pensions Secretary gave him her support on Sunday.
Mr Hunt is now just three behind Michael Gove in terms of the number of endorsements from MPs, just as the Environment Secretary’s campaign falters over the revelation that he took cocaine despite attacking middle-class drug use in newspaper articles.
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The Foreign Secretary, who campaigned to Remain in the EU but now says he would allow a no-deal exit, warned the Tories will be "annihilated" if they fight a general election before delivering Brexit.
Mr Hunt signaled he could extend Brexit beyond October 31 if an agreement was in sight, saying that “any Prime Minister who promised to leave by a certain date would have to call a general election to change the parliamentary arithmetic, and that is an election we would lose badly.
"If we fight an election before delivering Brexit we will be annihilated.
"Squeezed by the Brexit Party on the right and the Lib Dems on the left. We will simply allow Labour through the middle.
"And, if that happened nationally it would be the end of Brexit."
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In what is likely to be seen as a swipe at Boris Johnson, Mr Hunt attacked what he called “empty rhetoric” on Brexit and said: "We need to get real. We are facing a constitutional crisis.
"Our new Prime Minister will preside over a hung Parliament. A serious moment calls for a serious leader."
Mr Hunt also unveiled a new campaign video featuring supporters including author and Olympic table tennis player Matthew Syed, who praised the Cabinet minister's "unwavering commitment to getting results".