FORMER prime minister Alain Juppe has rejected calls to step into France’s presidential race to rescue his party’s chances should embattled candidate Francois Fillon withdraw.

Once the front-runner, conservative Fillon’s prospects are imploding as he faces possible corruption charges for arranging government-paid jobs for his wife and two of his children. Top allies have fled his campaign, and the situation has created a deepening crisis for French conservatives.

Moments after former president Nicolas Sarkozy called for a meeting with Fillon and Bordeaux mayor Juppe, who was defeated by Fillon in the conservative primary, said he would not be a “Plan B” for The Republicans party.

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“It’s too late,” he told reporters, accusing Fillon of leading the French right into a political “dead end” with his stubbornness in claiming he is the victim of a political plot. Juppe said: “What a waste. Last week I received many calls asking me to take over. They made me hesitate, I thought about it. Today, uniting everyone has become even more difficult.”

Republicans members have become even more anxious after a poll suggested Juppe would have a better chance at reaching the presidential run-off than Fillon.

Polls are now suggesting far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron will come out on top in the first-round presidential vote on April 23. The top two will then go on to compete in the May 7 run-off.

“I don’t intent to engage in partisan bargaining for positions,” Juppe said. “I’m not in a position today to achieve the required unity behind a unifying project. I confirm, once and for all, that I will not bid for French president.”

Sarkozy warned that the divisions among the right “will pave the way for the far right”.

In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, President Francois Hollande, an unpopular Socialist who decided not to run for a second term, also warned about the risk of Le Pen winning the election.

Hollande said: “The far-right has never been so high in more than 30 years. But France won’t cave in.”