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A campaign to stop former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson from becoming the UK's new Prime Minister and taking the country into a no-deal Brexit has been launched by moderate cabinet ministers.
After Theresa May owed to pressure on Friday and announced she would resign as Conservative leader within two weeks, Justice Secretary David Gauke and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart condemned Johnson's readiness to embrace a no-deal, saying it would be hugely damaging to the national interest, the Guardian reported.
The campaign launched on Saturday as part of a concerted "anti-Johnson" push by opponents of a hard Brexit followed comments by the former Foreign Secretary on Friday, soon after May's resignation speech, that the UK would definitely leave the European Union (EU) "deal or no deal" on October 31 if he became leader in July.
The remark infuriated the soft-Brexit wing of the party, with some MPs and Ministers even warning that there would be "serious numbers" of moderate Conservatives who would be ready to vote down a Johnson government if he set the country on a path to no deal.
In a clear attack on Johnson, Gauke, writing in the Guardian's Observer magazine on Sunday, warned that candidates who fail to acknowledge the "enormously harmful" effects of crashing out of the EU will fuel populism and risk doing untold harm to the economy and national interest.
His warning came after Stewart, who has declared his intention to stand, tore into Johnson and said he would refuse to serve in a government under his leadership.
"I spoke to Boris, I suppose, about two weeks ago and I thought at the time he had assured me that he wouldn't push for a no-deal Brexit. So, we had a conversation about 20, 25 minutes and I left the room reassured by him that he wouldn't do this.
"But it now seems that he is coming out for a no-deal Brexit. I think it would be a huge mistake. Damaging, unnecessary, and I think also dishonest," Stewart added.
The race to succeed May has begun with Conservative leadership contenders clashing over Brexit.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, 40, become the latest Cabinet Minister on Saturday to declare his intentions to stand for the Conservative leadership after May's resignation.
Hancock joins a long list of prominent Conservatives vying for the party leadership -- and, by default, the country -- including Johnson, Stewart, party leader Andrea Leadsom and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey have also confirmed their intentions to stand, the BBC reported.