Boris Johnson has been kicked out of his marital home by his wife after persistent reports of his womanising, it was claimed last night.
The allegation in The Sun came after a series of hints that the Brexit cheerleader is poised to make a bid to replace Theresa May in No 10.
But in a surprise twist, one of Mr Johnson's confidants said the disclosure was not an attempt to sabotage his hopes of becoming Prime Minister but a "damage limitation exercise", the Daily Mail reports.
The ally said: "I believe it is in Boris's interests to get this news out there now so it is not used by his enemies in the height of a leadership contest.
"It has all the hallmarks of an attempt to clear the decks. His marital problems have never been a secret.
"This means that if and when he goes for the top job, it will be old news and cannot harm him – which is what his pro EU enemies were bound to have done."
The pro-Brexit Sun gave Mr Johnson total support when he led the Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum.
And it has echoed his criticism of Mrs May's Chequers Brexit deal, which prompted his July resignation as Foreign Secretary.
Mr Johnson and his lawyer wife Marina Wheeler, both 54, now live apart and no longer socialise as a couple, it was claimed.
Mr Johnson has already been thrown out twice before, first in 2004 over his affair with writer Petronella Wyatt, and again in 2010 when he fathered a love child with art consultant Helen Macintyre.
In the past Mrs Wheeler, mother to their four children, has taken him back, despite his philandering. Sources close to Mr Johnson refused last night to comment.
The MP's daughter Lara, 25, was overheard at a party ranting about her father's infidelity, saying her mother would "never take him back", The Sun said. She added: "Mum is finished with him." She is said to have told pals at a party he "is a selfish b*****d".
The Johnsons are believed to have split up around the time they left the lavish grace-and-favour mansion at Carlton Gardens - traditionally the home of the Foreign Secretary - last month after he quit the Cabinet.
Only yesterday a poll of Tory members gave the leading Brexiteer a huge lead over his rivals to succeed Mrs May.
A survey on the ConservativeHome website revealed he had the support of 35 per cent of activists – a massive 20-point lead over second-placed Home Secretary Sajid Javid. A friend of the MP described the recent strain in the Johnsons' marriage.
"They were fine last Christmas but there's been strain since then," the source told The Sun. "I don't think being in the Foreign Office helped — all that travel.
"Marina wasn't at their daughter Cassia's birthday party this week. In fact, she has not been evident for a while.
"She's been writing a book and that probably hasn't helped either because she is no longer doing as many cases as a barrister.
"And yet I know they will always be incredibly close. I wouldn't say their marriage is over until there's a divorce. He doesn't do anything politically without consulting her. She's highly intelligent and very pro-Brexit."
Another friend said: "He hates the children knowing this stuff but there's no getting around the fact that his living arrangements have changed.
"It's all very painful to watch."
The split means Mr Johnson could have lost one of his closest political confidantes and advisers. His wife, a human rights QC, was a major influence in his decision to eventually back Brexit in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.
The former Foreign Secretary has been urged by some Tory MPs to challenge Mrs May as early as the autumn.
Allies say he was expected to take the temperature at the Tory party conference, which begins later this month. Many activists want him to scrap her Chequers plan for a so-called 'soft' Brexit.
Allies of Mr Johnson, the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, will insist his philandering has been well known among party members for years and is "written into his price".
Neither of his previous infidelities stopped him getting elected in 2008 as London mayor, being re-elected in 2012, or serving in one of the highest offices of state.
Mr Johnson was seen emerging from lunch in Westminster yesterday with Tory Chief Whip Julian Smith – fuelling speculation he was plotting to topple Mrs May.
A history of Boris
Boris Johnson has enjoyed a spectacularly colourful love life.
He married his Oxford University sweetheart Allegra Mostyn-Owen in 1987, but they divorced in 1993 after he cheated on her with his current wife, Marina Wheeler.
In 2004 his four-year affair with journalist and society author Petronella Wyatt, daughter of Labour grandee Lord Wyatt, became public. Nicknamed 'Petsy', the pair met while he was editor of the Spectator and she was a columnist.
She later told how she had an abortion and suffered a miscarriage. Mr Johnson was sacked from his role as shadow arts minister by then Tory leader Michael Howard for lying about the relationship. He had previously described reports of an affair as an "inverted pyramid of piffle".
Mr Howard's spokesman said at the time that the issue was one of "personal morality". Two years later, the News of the World reported an affair with journalist Anna Fazackerley, saying Mr Johnson had been seen leaving her London flat.
Mrs Wheeler threw her husband out of their home in Highgate, North London, but the couple later patched things up. He was able to rebuild his political career, running for London mayor in 2008, but the following year he fathered a child with art consultant Helen Macintyre.
It is understood Mrs Wheeler had, again, kicked him out of the family home. The love child was first revealed by the Mail in July 2010 and in 2013 a court ruled that it was in the public interest for the Press to report Mr Johnson was the father.
In a 2016 article, Miss Wyatt said: "He is inordinately proud of his Turkish ancestry and his views on matters such as monogamy are decidedly Eastern. 'I find it genuinely unreasonable that men should be confined to one woman,' he has grumbled to me, and cannot understand the media's reaction to his personal affairs."
Mr Johnson's wife has tolerated his philandering, a friend has said, seeing it as a "childish side of his personality which one day he'll grow out of".