Boris Johnson’s campaign team has told supporters they have secured the nominations needed from MPs for him to get on the ballot paper in the race for No 10, it has been reported.
The former prime minister has yet to declare whether he is standing – and the number of MPs publicly declaring for him is still well below the 100 needed.
However, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has sent a Whatsapp message to supporters claiming they have the numbers, according to the The Sun’s political editor Harry Cole.
Mr Heaton-Harris told them: “OK everyone! Some very good news! Thanks to all your hard work I can confirm we have completed all the paperwork (verified all nominations, with proposer and seconder) to be on the ballot tomorrow.”
However, supporters of former chancellor Rishi Sunak reacted to the claim with suspicion, suggesting it was a desperate attempt to drum up support.
Backbencher Richard Holden tweeted: “Very odd to brief this out again… (two days in a row). It’s what they briefed yesterday.
“It’s almost as if they still need people and are desperate to show momentum, which they can’t because no-one will publicly come out.”
Under the leadership rules candidates have until 2pm on Monday to get the necessary nominations.
Earlier, Mr Sunak became the second contender formally to declare he is standing, promising to “fix our economy, unite our party and deliver for our country” at a time of “profound economic crisis”.
The former chancellor already has more than 140 MPs publicly backing him, according to some reports, meaning his place on the ballot paper should be secure.
Meanwhile, allies of Penny Mordaunt – who was the first candidate to declare – have disclosed that she has been speaking to Mr Johnson.
The PA news agency understands that he asked her to stand aside and back his campaign, but she refused, saying most of her supporters would switch to Mr Sunak if she pulled out.
The disclosure, however, fuelled speculation that Mr Johnson has been struggling to get the numbers he needs.
His supporters have suggested that the shortfall in public declarations was in part due to the fact that some MPs backing him were reluctant to go public until they are certain he is standing.