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The Tory leadership race descended into bitter infighting last night as the party’s right battled it out to take on favourite Rishi Sunak.

Home Secretary Priti Patel was weighing up a bid after telling Brexiteer Tories she was the only right-winger who could win the next election.

Leading Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt topped a poll of party members despite hardliners claims she was too “woke” for the top job.

Newcomer Kemi Badenoch was snapping at her heels but Tory critics suggested she lacked the experience or gravitas for No 10.

Attorney General Suella Braverman, the current favourite among pro-Brexit hardliner MPs, dispatched lieutenants to warn the contest was too crowded.

One Tory Brexiteer told the Mirror: “It’s a nightmare.”

Priti Patel has been weighing up her chances of joining the Tory leadership race ( REUTERS)

It comes as the crowded field of a dozen Tory MPs – led by former Chancellor Rishi Sunak – jostled to take over from Boris Johnson after his dramatic fall from grace over his handling of scandals last week.

Mr Sunak will set himself apart from the majority of his rivals by pledging to cut taxes and get the tax burden down only once inflation is under control.

“We need a return to traditional Conservative economic values – and that means honesty and responsibility, not fairy tales,” he will say.

“I’ve had to make some of the most difficult choices in my life when I was Chancellor, in particular how to deal with our debt and borrowing after Covid.

“I have never hidden away from those, and I certainly won’t pretend now that the choices I made, and the things I voted for, were somehow not necessary. Whilst this may be politically inconvenient, it is the truth. ”

His successor, Nadhim Zahawi, threatened to cut the health service and the schools department by 20% in a fresh wave of austerity if he wins the contest.

Sajid Javid official launched his leadership campaign on Monday afternoon ( REUTERS)

And former health secretary Sajid Javid, whose resignation triggered a slew of departures from government, faced repeated questions over his own tax affairs.

But the race descended into chaos as more and more candidates decided to stand for the top job – including MPs barely known by their Tory colleagues.

Party chiefs want the 12-strong field whittled down to the final two by next week’s recess, with the run-off candidates then spending the summer at hustings across the country.

Ms Patel’s expected decision prompted hand-wringing on the Tory right amid fears she could derail the contest.

One Tory MP told the Mirror: “Priti is determined to stand and thinks everybody should rally to her. It’s such a lack of self-awareness.

“It looks at the moment as though they’ll go for it so it will be the usual think of the free markets side of the Conservative party failing to get their act together”.

Her proposals included tax cuts – but no detail on how they would be paid for – ditching green levies and looking at a return to fracking and refusing to “cave in” to the EU.

She told MPs that many members “will remember what the 1970s was liked” and the next PM must break from the “Treasury orthodoxy” by cutting taxes and red tap.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, one of the candidates for Tory Party leader and Prime Minister ( PA)

And she claimed she was the “hearts and minds” candidate who could help win back Tory activists ahead of the next election in 2024.

Meanwhile, new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi promised swingeing public service cuts if he gets into Downing Street.

The multi-millionaire property tycoon said the move would fund tax cuts – reducing the base rate of income tax to 19p in 2023 and 18p in 2024. He would also abolish green levies and VAT on energy bills for two years.

But Mr Zahawi was again forced to defend his private finances after a slew of allegations – which he denies – that he had been investigated by the National Crime Agency and HMRC.

Tory leadership hopeful Sajid Javid also faced repeated questions over his tax affairs as he officially launched his campaign.

The former Chancellor was dogged by inquiries as to where he was domiciled for tax purposes during an international career as a banker trousering millions of pounds a year.

The growing row risks derailing his bid for the party crown and No10.

Ex-Deutsche Bank executive Mr Javid squirmed: “I have been open and transparent about this, I have set out before this campaign that because before politics my job was an international job – I travelled a lot, I lived in the States, I lived in the UK, I lived in Singapore – I was a tax resident in different countries as part of my job.”

Attorney General Suella Braverman was the first to throw her hat into the ring as Boris Johnson’s premiership went up in flames ( PA)

Despite vowing transparency, he refused to say which countries he had been domiciled in, adding: “I’m not getting into any more detail about my personal tax affairs that were to do with a time when I was not in public life.”

Mr Javid added that the political situation was starting to “feel very familiar”, adding: “We cannot be complacent about the situation that we are now in.

“This is a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment – sleaze, scandal, internal warfare; we have seen this movie before and we know how it ends.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss formally launched her campaign as rivals squabbled over promises of “fantasy tax cuts”.

She pledged to begin cutting taxes “from day one” while billing herself as an experienced candidate to set herself apart from opponents with less Cabinet experience.

One of her key backers, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, accepted that public spending would need to be reduced to fulfil pledges of tax cuts.

She plans to cut income tax by a penny, scrap the national insurance hike, axe a planned corporation hike, and a 10p fuel duty cut within days of becoming PM.

The Tories’ 1922 Committee met last night to decide the rules of the contest and was planning to set tough thresholds for knockout stages this week.

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