Aris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were said to have been locked in talks late into the evening as speculation mounted over whether the pair would be able to strike a deal to lay the foundations for a united Conservative government.

Mr Johnson has fallen behind his former chancellor in public support deputies how Mr. Sunak gained a valuable ally in Kemi Badenach on saturday supporters of the former prime minister disputed claims he had reached the numbers needed to secure a place on the tory ballot.

Sir James Duddridge, a friend of Mr Johnson, said the former prime minister had the support of the 100 MPs needed to reserve his place on the ballot.

But Sunac supporter Richard Holden questioned the suggestion, arguing that an equivalent number of public statements had not been made “because they don’t exist”.

As the day drew to a close, neither Mr Johnson nor Mr Sunak had announced their candidacy, with reports that the pair held talks in the evening to agree on a joint ticket.

International trade secretary and former leadership contender Ms Badenoch, in a blow to Mr Johnson’s election campaign should he decide to seek a second Downing Street post, backed the ex-chancellor, insisting it was not yet time for ” nostalgia for the cavalier impulse of 2019″.

She admitted that she was “at times” a member of the “Boris Johnson fan club” but said that Tori do not “organize a popularity contest” and emphasized that the party “is not a vehicle for one person’s personal ambitions.”

Mr Johnson has returned to Britain to plan a second bid for the top job, which has divided opinion among Tory MPs, including his former allies.

He arrived at Gatwick Airport on Saturday morning with his family after a break from a holiday in the Dominican Republic following the dramatic resignation of Liz Truss on Thursday.

Meanwhile, an aide to the former home secretary Suella Braverman told the PA news agency that she had personally been “strongly courted” by both Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak and was likely to decide who to back for the Tory leadership on Sunday.

Despite the fact that so far the only candidate has been announced as a minister of the Cabinet of Ministers Penny Mordant lags far behind his potential rivals in public support from MPs, with just 21 to Mr Johnson’s 44 and Mr Sunak’s 113, according to a PA count.

Outlining her plan to “unite party and country” in the Express, she warned that the Tories had “allowed themselves to be distracted by internal disputes”.

Ms Mordaunt used her speech to highlight the need to “make Brexit work”, “focus on the potential of all our citizens” and “protect our Union and its territorial integrity”, pledging to support reform of the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.

She insisted she was not seeking the top job for an “easy ride” and promised to build a government that “draws on all our best talent”.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Ms Badenoch said her party needed to remind people that “the Conservatives care about the country, not themselves”.

The international trade minister suggested Mr Sunak would bring a “disciplined approach” to the government, citing his “fiscal conservatism” and stressing that “being able to say no now is what we need”.

She said everyone in the party would have to make “sacrifices” to prove to people that the Tories can “come together”.

For her, that means giving up a second leadership bid, she said, while some will have to give up working in government under a candidate they like “so that others can be brought into the tent.”

Mr Johnson’s potential return has divided opinion even among his parliamentary party allies, including his former deputy prime minister and foreign secretary Dominic Raab.

Mr Raab said “we cannot go back” and noted that the ex-prime minister was facing an investigation into his actions over Partygate.

He backed Mr Sunac, saying he was “very confident” the former chancellor would run.

Moments after Mr Johnson landed in the UK on Saturday, former home secretary Priti Patel said he had her support, but his potential bid failed as former close allies Steve Barclay and Lord Frost urged colleagues to support Mr Johnson. – on Sunak.

Mr. Johnson’s father, Stanley, predicted that his son would make a name for himself and defeat Mr. Sunak in a head-to-head contest.

The former prime minister currently has the support of six cabinet ministers: Ben Wallace, Jacob Rhys-Mogg, Simon Clarke, Chris Heaton-Harris, Alok Sharma and Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

But his public support was a far cry from that of Mr. Sunac.

Tory MPs will vote on Monday and two candidates will be nominated as party members unless one withdraws, with the result announced on Friday.

Candidates have until 2pm on Monday to secure 100 nominations, limiting the vote to a maximum of three candidates.

Mr Johnson’s supporters believe that if he can make it to the bottom two, he will win the final online vote by party activists, among whom he remains very popular.

Some MPs have warned they will quit their Tories and enter the House of Commons as independents if Johnson returns to Downing Street.