SENIOR Tories have launched a “stop Boris” campaign, warning that a hard Brexiteer such as the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson as leader would be “electoral suicide”.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the former party chairman who is backing Jeremy Hunt to succeed Theresa May, yesterday launched an attack on hardline Eurosceptic contenders, warning that their “ideological” attachment to a no-deal Brexit is “reckless”.

Writing in The Sunday Times, he said: “Defining ourselves as the Brexit party, pursuing the hardest form of Brexit with a parliament that will not deliver it, is a recipe for paralysis in government and suicide with the electorate. We are and must remain the Conservative Party, not the Vote Leave party.”

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His remarks can also be interpreted as a criticism of Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who met two dozen MPs last week who want him to run, and who helped lead the campaign to leave the EU with Johnson.

McLoughlin said the next Prime Minister should be someone who voted to remain but supports the need to leave — a position adopted by Hunt, as well as rival leadership contenders Sajid Javid and Matt Hancock.

McLoughlin said the future relationship with Brussels “is best delivered by someone who believes in Brexit”.

But he added: “While some have tried to claim this only means having voted leave in the referendum, I prefer the qualities of those who have worked tirelessly to deliver it and voted consistently with the Government to make it happen in Parliament.”

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McLoughlin’s intervention will be welcomed by Scottish Conservatives who are concerned Johnson as Prime Minister or Tory leader would reverse the party’s gains made in Scotland at the last General Election and lose it 12 Westminster seats.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell has previously spoken out publicly against Johnson, warning that his former Cabinet colleague was “not an asset” to the party in Scotland.

The National revealed last month that the Scottish Conservatives are poised for fresh considerations about breaking away from the UK party if Johnson becomes Prime Minister.

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The revelation of a “stop Boris” campaign came as Sajid Javid launched his own leadership campaign at a private dinner for 50 MPs last week.

The Home Secretary presented himself to members of the social justice group of MPs as a family man who would fight for public services, arguing that Tories should “show love” to public sector workers.

Javid’s allies are seeking to depict him as more electable than Johnson, while stressing that Johnson has “high negatives” in recent public polling.

The party establishment moved against the Brexiteers as May’s failure to deliver Brexit led to a plunge in the opinion polls.

One survey put the Tories on just 24%, a level which has led some MPs in marginal seats to rally behind Johnson as their best hope of retaining their seats. Polls for the European elections have the Tories as low as 16%.

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Meanwhile, Tory MPs remain concerned a delay to Brexit until October 31, given by the European Council last week, will see voters defect to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party at upcoming local and European elections.

Annunziata Rees-Mogg, the sister of the European Research Group chair Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has joined the new Brexit Party, warned that the Conservatives would be “obliterated” at the ballot box unless they changed course on Brexit. She said: “In the last 24 hours I have had messages of support and pledges of votes from sitting Conservative councillors, from current and former association chairmen and from activists across the country.”

One chairman posted in a WhatsApp group for grassroots Tories he was on the verge of voting for Farage’s party. “Unless something happens to remove May, I will be considering my membership,” he wrote before adding: “I can’t see a majority of even association chairs voting for the Conservatives in the European elections.”