Reports last night suggested the Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, had accepted the post of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Rev Graham James, was one of the favourites to succeed Dr Rowan Williams but said he was “hoping and praying” to not be chosen, adding that the role was suited to a younger man.

Dr Williams’s successor could be announced this week after the Crown Nominations Commission put forward Justin Welby’s name to Downing Street, according to the report.

The 56-year-old former oil executive has been a bishop for just one year, but is now favourite to lead the world’s 77 million Anglicans.

The news came hours after it was revealed that Eton-educated Rt Rev Welby will not make a scheduled appearance on Friday’s recording of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions

A Lambeth Palace spokesman and a Downing Street spokesman both declined to confirm the report.

Bookmakers William Hill and Ladbrokes also fuelled speculation that the bishop was set to be appointed after they announced that they had closed their books on betting for the Archbishop of Canterbury following a rush of bets on Bishop Welby

Dr Williams announced he was to leave as Archbishop of Canterbury in March.

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