Sajid Javid has tonight dropped out of the Conservative party leadership race as the eight contenders for tomorrow’s first vote are announced.
Javid struggled to get the endorsements of the 20 MPs necessary to get on the ballot, with the former health secretary saying he now wanted to see the “debate unfold and to see colleagues working together as a united Conservative Party”.
Tory MPs will now vote in a series of contests over the next week until the field is whittled down to the last two contenders, who will then face the party’s 200,000 members in a six-week campaign.
Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch, Nadhim Zahawi, Jeremy Hunt, Tom Tugendhat and Suella Braverman will all be on the ballot tomorrow. Anyone who receives less than 30 votes will be eliminated.
The three clear favourites with bookmakers to be the next Prime Minister are now Sunak, Mordaunt and Truss.
Today has seen rival camps get increasingly vicious as backers of Truss lined up to bash Sunak as he begins to look like the candidate to beat early on.
Truss now appears to be the most likely standard bearer for the right of the party after Priti Patel decided not to run yesterday, and after getting the endorsements of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries.
Rees-Mogg said he was “always opposed to Rishi’s higher taxes”, and that Truss “is the best candidate — that’s what we’re looking for”.
Sunak scored the endorsements of transport secretary Grant Shapps and deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab today – two former Boris Johnson loyalists.
Speaking at his official campaign launch today, Sunak said: “My message to the party and the country is simple. I have a plan to steer our economy through these headwinds.
“We need a return to traditional conservative economic values. And that means honesty and responsibility, not fairy tales. It is not credible to promise lots more spending and lower taxes.”
His comments come after Tory candidates have lined up over the past few days to announce wide ranging tax cuts in a bid to endear themselves to the party faithful.
A poll from Channel 4/Opinium showed Conservative members’ favourite candidates were Sunak with 28 per cent, Truss with 20 per cent and Mordaunt with 14 per cent.
The 60-member European Research Group (ERG) – a Brexiteer pressure group of Tory MPs – will meet tomorrow to decide to endorse in the race.
The ERG’s choice could have a huge impact on who gets into the final two, with Truss and Braverman the two most likely to be endorsed.
Leading ERG member Mark Francois told The Telegraph: “I can take much from the fact we have a number of good quality candidates.”