The saga of Mr Kelly’s intentions has run for more than a year and the NSW MP did another round of media interviews on Thursday to insist he won’t quit.
The Liberals have delayed his preselection for the NSW seat of Hughes, according to some reports because of long-held concerns he might go rogue.
Last night, Mr Kelly conceded friends were urging him to quit and sit as a conservative independent.
Despite reports on Thursday he had dropped that threat, Mr Kelly was actually still leaving the door open to going independent if he’s dumped by preselectors.
“Nothing has changed,” he told The New Daily.
“I acknowledged that people are calling for me to quit now and run as an independent. I’ve rejected that … and said I’m happy to contest any preselection.
“Anything after that is a hypothetical, which I’m not getting into a rule-in-rule-out game.”
Mr Kelly’s response means becoming an independent is still an option for him. But he did score support from former prime minister Tony Abbott on Thursday.
Posing in a Robert Menzies T-shirt with Mr Abbott, Mr Kelly vowed to remain loyal to the Liberal Party founders’ values.
“Always good to be with a real Liberal!,” Mr Abbot tweeted.
Always good to be with a real Liberal! pic.twitter.com/ngdMJbvF1L
— Tony Abbott (@TonyAbbottMHR) November 28, 2018
A supporter of Mr Abbott, Mr Kelly is known for his frequent appearances on Sky News.
He earlier confirmed he would not quit the Liberal Party, even if he loses preselection for the seat of Hughes, until after Parliament rises on December 6.
It is not scheduled to resume until February 2019.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Kelly told ABC radio he was “absolutely” confident of being re-endorsed as the Liberal candidate for Hughes, and would continue to advocate for the re-election of the Morrison government.
“I certainly won’t be defecting from the Liberal Party,” he said.
The federal government is, however, bracing for further defections after Victorian MP Julia Banks sensationally quit the party this week.
If Mr Kelly follows through with his threat, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s numbers on the floor of Parliament will drop to 72 seats – or 73 if Speaker Tony Smith is included.
As a conservative MP, Mr Kelly would be expected to vote with the government – unless, of course, it tried to legislate a national energy guarantee-style energy policy.
His potential defection was the talk of the traditional independents’ Christmas drinks in Canberra on Wednesday night.
The event was attended by all crossbench independents and Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Mr Morrison, who walked out of the House during the maiden speech of independent Kerryn Phelps on Monday, did not show up.