Six Tory leadership candidates tonight got through the first round of voting to be Britain’s Prime Minister – but Jeremy Hunt, once Boris Johnson’s biggest rival, was knocked out.
Rishi Sunak was in the lead as expected on 88 MPs’ votes despite promising fewer tax cuts than his rivals – and an alleged campaign to block him from the PM’s allies. But he was closely followed by dark horse candidate Penny Mordaunt on 67 MPs’ support after backers packed a punchy leadership launch.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had 50 – but could easily pull ahead of Ms Mordaunt to face Mr Sunak in the run-off if right-wingers unite behind her later in the week.
Moderate ex-military candidate Tom Tugendhat had 37, and ‘woke warrior’ Suella Braverman squeezed through with 32 – just two over the knockout threshold. Both are now at risk of elimination in the coming days.
Former Health Secretary and Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt earned just 18 MPs’ support, while Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi was knocked out with 25.
Candidates had to get at least 30 votes to make it through the first round.
Up to four further MP ballots are now set to kick off – starting with one tomorrow, then more from Monday – knocking out one candidate at a time until two go to a vote of 180,000 Tory members.
A new PM will be announced on September 5 and Boris Johnson will likely hand his resignation to the Queen on September 6.
Ms Braverman’s campaign manager Steve Baker told the Mirror “we’re through and that’s good enough” after she grabbed the attention of right-wingers by slamming benefit claimants and promising to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.
An MP from Team Tugendhat, told the Mirror he was hoping his man will scrape through long enough to get on TV.
He said: “We’ve seen today’s polls but the truth is he’s winning Labour voters. We’re set to scoop Mr Zahawi’s & Mr Hunt’s supporters too, so we’re very pleased with where we are.
“We know that the country likes Tom. We need to get him on TV. This result means we should get through the televised debate which is what we want.”
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A Nadhim Zahawi supporter told reporters: “Whilst I’m personally gutted, I think it’s now clear we need to unite the Conservative party and choose who we’re going to get behind.”
Ahead of the announcement, rumours said Mr Hunt – who was the final candidate against Boris Johnson last time – was on the verge of conceding as he wasn’t able to secure enough backers.
Tory leadership election 2022
But in an influential YouGov poll, Penny Mordaunt was deemed the favourite for Tory leader and next PM among all Conservative members.
The survey of 879 members put Ms Mordaunt on 27%, with Ms Badenoch coming second placed with 15%. It would come as another huge boost to Ms Mordaunt’s campaign as it shows she would beat every other candidate by a large margin.
Mr Sunak, who is widely seen as a favourite, came a joint third with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in the poll.
Supporters of Ms Mordaunt and Ms Truss believe either of them would beat Mr Sunak in the final run-off of Tory members, giving Britain its third female Prime Minister.
The YouGov poll confirms the findings from the ‘Tory bible’ Conservative Home on Tuesday which also put Ms Mordaunt first and Ms Badenoch second.
Officially kicking off her campaign, Ms Mordaunt told Conservative MPs that she is the candidate “ Labour fear the most” and warned her competitors that they are right to perceive her as a “threat to their campaign”.
Ms Mordaunt said her key economic policy would be that debt as a percentage of GDP, a measure of national income, would fall “over time”.
Ms Mordaunt also addressed sexist attacks against her from within her party by individuals trying to scupper her campaign.
“Well, they’re very sensible people because I’m a threat to their campaign,” she said, but added that the only people she will take the fight to is the Opposition.
Just before the result was announced Mr Sunak had 53 publicly declared MP supporters, Ms Mordaunt had 37 MPs publicly backing her and Ms Truss had 28 – including themselves.
No10 denied running an anti-Rishi Sunak smear campaign earlier today as the outgoing PM’s allies singled out the former chancellor for criticism in an increasingly bitter leadership contest.
The caretaker Prime Minister’s press secretary insisted that Mr Johnson is “staying neutral” – despite his remaining loyalists throwing their support behind Ms Truss, including in an announcement outside 10 Downing Street.
Mr Sunak faced claims from Ms Truss’s supporters of using “economically damaging” policies.
Ms Dorries even accused the former chancellor’s team of using the “dark arts” over claims they tried to “syphon off” votes to ensure Mr Hunt cleared the threshold to enter the contest because they believed Mr Sunak would beat him in a run-off vote of party members.
The final two candidates will spend the summer battling it out to win the support of Tory party members. Mr Johnson’s successor will be announced on September 5.