BORIS Johnson and Rishi Sunak were last night locked in talks to see if they can strike a deal to crown one as PM.
The high-stakes summit came after Boris flew back to the UK and claimed he had the backing of 100 Tory MPs — enough to get into the final ballot.
Boris Johnson is plotting a sensational return as PM and is holding talks with Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak has strong support from high profile Tory MPs to become PM
As talks went down to the wire, Priti Patel said the ex-PM is “the man to lead Britain”.
But Rishi was boosted by support from Tory big beasts including Kemi Badenoch. She said “he would be a great leader in a time of crisis”.
But MPs fear a party civil war if the two would-be PMs cannot agree.
One senior Tory MP said: “It is like a Mexican standoff between these two men. These talks will go down to the wire.”
Boris Johnson headed straight to his campaign HQ after jetting in from the Caribbean
Neither Boris nor Rishi have formally announced their leadership bids.
But the bitter rivals are desperately negotiating to see if some kind of accord can be struck.
If they fail to come up with a pact, they will go head-to-head in a battle for the Tory crown.
Tory MPs have been desperately pleading with the pair to lock themselves in a room and thrash out their differences until a deal is done — for the sake of the party.
Penny Mordaunt is expected to soon drop out of the leadership race
One said: “We need a papal conclave where they both stay in a room until we get the white smoke and one is crowned leader. We can’t keep squabbling in public.”
Meanwhile, third-placed Penny Mordaunt is widely expected to crash out of the leadership race after only bagging 23 backers.
In a day of political plotting, Boris jetted back from his Caribbean holiday at 10.15am and headed straight to his London campaign HQ.
The bleary-eyed ex-PM hit the phones at Millbank Tower in Westminster to urge wavering Tories to give him their vote — and another shot at No10.
He told Tory Red Wall MP Lee Anderson he would get the country back on its feet if he wins.
But a couple of hundred metres away, over in Parliament, Rishi was in his office also hammering the phones to MPs to woo them.
He spoke with Kemi in the afternoon — getting her important backing.
Lord Frost also threw his weight behind the ex-Chancellor, saying: “We must move on. It is simply not right to risk repeating the chaos and confusion of last year.”
Late yesterday afternoon, the rival camps were desperately scouting around for a suitable venue to hold a secret Boris-Rishi summit away from prying eyes.
One senior Tory said: “If Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak end up going head to head, it will be the biggest fight since Muhammad Ali and George Foreman and Rumble in the Jungle.
“It will be huge — and incredibly bruising for the party.”
There has been a massive clamour among Tory MPs for Boris and Rishi to bury the hatchet and unite to heal the party’s rifts.
A senior Rishi backer said: “They need to do a deal. They need a rapprochement — like when Gordon Brown brought Peter Mandelson back. It is the only way.”
Even Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has urged the pair to “put aside their egos” and do a deal for the sake of the party.
Others warned the Tories are heading for civil war unless the two sides can call a truce.
After sunning himself on the beach in the Dominican Republic for the past two weeks with wife Carrie and their young family, Boris jetted back into a political storm yesterday.
Ben Bradley, MP for Mansfield, said Boris has “made mistakes” and that over the past year he has been “angry with him” .
But after they chatted yesterday afternoon, he decided to give him another chance because of his appeal to voters.
He said: “Nobody can draw the people in and make people engaged and interested in politics in the way he has.”
Boris is understood to have the help of his close friend, Tory MP Nigel Adams, known as BoJo’s fixer.
He served in his Cabinet but stood down when Boris quit.
He was away on holiday this week, but jetted back and has been leading Boris’ support operation this week.