Sir Robert Buckland has become the first Cabinet minister to publicly switch their endorsement for the Tory leadership from Rishi Sunak to Liz Truss.
Writing for the Telegraph, the Wales Secretary, cited Ms Truss’s economic management – one of the areas that initially drew him to Mr Sunak.
His defection will be seen as further confirmation that scores of Tory MPs believe Ms Truss, the Foreign Secretary, is favourite to become the next prime minister.
Ms Truss is consistently ahead in Tory membership polls. Party sources think more than half of members have already voted, meaning time to change the dynamics of the race is running out.
Traditionally in leadership contests, backing the favourite and having the possibility of being rewarded with a ministerial job plays a significant role in who MPs publicly endorse.
Sir Robert wrote: “I know both candidates well and have worked with them in government and in Cabinet. At the outset of the contest, I wrote for The Telegraph outlining what my underlying approach to this contest would be.
“I have looked at ideas and principles first, and personalities second. During the parliamentary rounds, I backed Rishi Sunak as I felt that he was at that stage embodying what we needed.
“As the campaign has moved on, and as I have listened carefully to both candidates, I have thought deeply about the issues that move me and what I want to see the next prime minister doing. Changing your mind on an issue like this is not an easy thing to do, but I have decided that Liz Truss is the right person to take our country forward.”
The former justice secretary picked out two policy areas: Ms Truss’s support for a British Bill of Rights – an attempt to move away from European human rights law – and the economy.
“Her plans give us our best shot at reaching our potential with the high-growth, high-productivity economy that we need not only to get us out of this crisis but to protect ourselves from the next,” he wrote.
That was in marked contrast to the public comments he gave a month ago when he publicly endorsed Mr Sunak. He said in a video message posted on Twitter on July 14:
— Robert Buckland (@RobertBuckland) July 14, 2022
Sir Robert becomes the second Tory MP to publicly switch support from Mr Sunak to Ms Truss, following Chris Skidmore.
Mr Skidmore also announced his defection in a Telegraph article in which he accused Mr Sunak of frequently changing his position on key policy issues.
It’s time for positive politics, to come together, and for Liz to lead
Throughout this leadership contest, we have seen the enormous and diverse range of talent in our party and we have benefited from frank and positive debate about our ideas and competing visions for our country and economy, writes Sir Robert Buckland.
Sometimes, people have forgotten Ronald Reagan’s famous 11th commandment about not speaking ill of a fellow conservative, which has been unwise to say the least.
But, as the contest comes to a head, we must remember what is really at stake.
We are not only electing a party leader but choosing the person who we think is best suited to leading us through what will be a turbulent period. We will be asking our next prime minister from day one to guide our country through a cost of living crisis, war in Europe, rising geopolitical tensions and unresolved questions over the Northern Ireland border.
As a party we will be asking them to do all of this, deliver on our manifesto commitments and make enough progress on the levelling up agenda to deliver a historic fifth term in office, all in the space of two years.
Whichever candidate we choose – and I truly believe that both are extremely capable – party unity must follow. We cannot expect to have the necessary strength in government if our party is torn in two by the end of the summer.
Just as importantly, we need someone who can force things through the Whitehall system quickly and to focus relentlessly on getting things done.
I know both candidates well and have worked with them in government and in Cabinet. At the outset of the contest, I wrote for The Telegraph outlining what my underlying approach to this contest would be. I have looked at ideas and principles first, and personalities second. During the parliamentary rounds, I backed Rishi Sunak as I felt that he was at that stage embodying what we needed.
As the campaign has moved on, and as I have listened carefully to both candidates, I have thought deeply about the issues that move me and what I want to see the next prime minister doing. Changing your mind on an issue like this is not an easy thing to do, but I have decided that Liz Truss is the right person to take our country forward.
One of the issues I wrote about was the importance of carrying out our manifesto commitment to reform the Human Rights Act. As Lord Chancellor, I pushed forward vital reforms to judicial review and sentencing that fulfilled our manifesto commitments and had started work on reforming Labour’s flawed Human Rights Act.
The current Bill of Rights is a further step forward, but I further outlined my deep and long-standing concerns about the state of the Bill in The Telegraph last Monday.
We need to make these reforms truly effective by reviewing this proposed legislation. Liz has pledged to address the specific concerns that I have raised about it; she wants to make the most of this Bill and to make sure that it works.
Another key issue that I wrote about was, of course, the economy. If we are to make a real difference to people, then we must get the economy growing again.
We need growth, we need investment, and we need to learn to love business again, because that is ultimately the best way and the Conservative way of boosting household finances and getting the tax revenues we need to fund brilliant public services.
Liz understands the need to make supply side reforms, unlocking the private sector that powers our economic growth through investment and providing high-skilled jobs, such as the ones I saw at Airbus in North Wales on my visit with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on Thursday.
Her plans give us our best shot at reaching our potential with the high-growth, high-productivity economy that we need not only to get us out of this crisis but to protect ourselves from the next.
Liz has already pledged to cut energy bills through a temporary moratorium on the energy levy and to cut National Insurance, and she has pledged to work on more measures to help hard-pressed households through this worrying time.
We as Conservative Party members face a choice that is so much bigger than all of us. It is about the country now, about the security and prosperity of our friends, families, and neighbours.
We cannot let what has been an overall positive contest for our party slide into more blue-on-blue as the weeks roll on. It is time for positive politics, time to come together, and time for Liz to lead.