Rishi Sunak topped the voting in the first round of the race to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative leader and Prime Minister.
14 July 2022
Liz Truss sought to reinvigorate her Tory leadership bid as the contest became increasingly bitter ahead of another contender’s elimination.
The Foreign Secretary is bidding to see off rival Penny Mordaunt, who is under fire from allies of Ms Truss after a surge of support for the trade minister.
Ms Mordaunt came second in the first round of voting on Wednesday, pushing Ms Truss into third place.
Former chancellor Rishi Sunak claimed the top spot but the battle to reach the final stage of the contest – in which the two candidates chosen by MPs face a vote by the party’s members – is far from over.
Votes are being counted following the second round of the contest, with the candidate in last place losing both their place in the race and the chance to take part in TV debates over the coming days.
In Wednesday’s first ballot Ms Mordaunt’s strong performance saw her claim 67 votes, 17 more than Ms Truss, with Mr Sunak picking up the support of 88 MPs.
Strong opinion polling also buoyed Ms Mordaunt’s campaign, pushing her into the status of bookmakers’ favourite to become the next Tory leader and prime minister.
But supporters of Ms Truss seized on a scathing attack on Ms Mordaunt from former Brexit minister Lord Frost.
He told TalkTV: “I am quite surprised at where she is in this leadership race. She was my deputy – notionally, more than really – in the Brexit talks last year.
“I felt she did not master the detail that was necessary in the negotiations last year. She wouldn’t always deliver tough messages to the European Union when that was necessary.
“She wasn’t fully accountable, she wasn’t always visible. Sometimes I didn’t even know where she was. This became such a problem that, after six months, I had to ask the Prime Minister to move her on and find somebody else to support me.”
Allies of Ms Mordaunt said she had “nothing but respect” for Lord Frost despite his scathing attack on her.
A source in the Penny Mordaunt campaign said: “Penny has nothing but respect for Lord Frost.
“He did a huge amount to assist our negotiations until he resigned from Government.
“Penny will always fight for Brexit and always has.”
But the former minister’s remarks were highlighted by the Truss campaign, with Treasury Chief Secretary Simon Clarke saying: “Lord Frost’s warning is a really serious one. Conservatives – and far more importantly our country – need a leader who is tested and ready.”
Ms Truss herself refused to be drawn into a war of words with the Mordaunt camp, telling her campaign launch: “The Conservative race shows what a broad range of talents we have in the Conservative Party. And we didn’t get there through identity politics.”
The Foreign Secretary also faced tough questions about whether her backing from Johnson loyalists could prove fatal to her ambitions to succeed him as Prime Minister.
“I am a loyal person. I am loyal to Boris Johnson. I supported our Prime Minister’s aspirations and I want to deliver the promise of the 2019 manifesto,” she said on Thursday morning, to cheers from her campaign team.
The Truss campaign is putting pressure rivals Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch to abandon their bids and “unite the right” of the party around the Foreign Secretary.
Ms Braverman scraped into the second round with 32 votes – candidates with fewer than 30 were eliminated – while Ms Badenoch had 40.
But even as MPs voted, Ms Braverman was adamant she would not be quitting.
Her campaign team believes that getting her into the debates, due to begin on Friday night, is key to her chances.
The Attorney General said: “We are in this to win it.”
She said her plan to leave the European Convention on Human Rights and be “fearless in the fight for common sense values” were popular with voters.
Tom Tugendhat, who finished fifth with 37 votes on Wednesday, was adamant he would continue in the contest, saying “I don’t quit”.
He will hope to secure some extra votes from supporters of Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi, who were eliminated on Wednesday – although Mr Hunt himself is supporting Mr Sunak.
Meanwhile, Mr Sunak insisted his wealth and background in international finance does not bar him from understanding the plight of hard-pressed households.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t judge people by their bank accounts, I judge them by their character, and I think people can judge me by my actions over the past couple of years.”
He defended his economic plan, which would not involve the immediate tax cuts promised by his rivals.
“I will get taxes down in this Parliament, but I’m going to do so responsibly,” he said.
“Because I don’t cut taxes to win elections, I win elections to cut taxes, and I’m convinced that I’m the best person to beat Keir Starmer and the Labour Party at the next election.”
Rival camps have accused Mr Sunak’s operation of “dirty tricks” and “shenanigans” during the parliamentary election process, with the finger of blame pointed at former chief whip Sir Gavin Williamson.
Asked what Sir Gavin’s role is, Mr Sunak said: “Like all the Members of Parliament who are on my team, they are talking to colleagues and making the case for my candidacy because they believe that I am the best person to beat Keir Starmer and the Labour Party and I’m really grateful for all their support.”
Under the Tory leadership rules, any candidate who does not get 30 votes or who finishes last in a round of voting is eliminated from the contest.
Tory MPs will continue to vote in subsequent rounds until two candidates are left, who will then battle it out over the summer to win the support of Conservative members, with their choice of the next prime minister being unveiled on September 5.
Mr Johnson will then formally tender his resignation to the Queen to make way for his successor the following day.