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Jeremy Hunt has criticised the remaining Tory leadership contenders for “smears and attacks” after he was knocked out of the contest with the fewest votes in the first ballot of Tory MPs.
The former foreign secretary tweeted: “A gentle word of advice to the remaining candidates: smears & attacks may bring short term tactical gain but always backfire long term.
“The nation is watching & they’ve had enough of our drama; be the broad church & unbeatable, election winning machine that our country deserves.”
In a sign of an increasingly bitter contest, Mr Hunt’s campaign had become the target of attacks from Boris Johnson loyalists over claims of manipulation in the race that will select the next prime minister.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries accused Rishi Sunak’s team of using the “dark arts” following 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.
Mr Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi were eliminated after failing to secure the support of at least 30 MPs in Wednesday’s ballot, leaving six contenders in the race.
Mr Hunt got 18 votes, lower than his initial number of nominations.
Afterwards, the South West Surrey MP thanked his “incredible team of loyal and talented supporters who put their faith in me”.
“It’s become obvious to me you only get one big shot at this, and I had mine in 2019,” he tweeted.
The 55-year-old finished second to Mr Johnson in the Conservative leadership contest three years ago.
He also said that “with the amazing array of talent on offer in this contest” he felt “confident that we are on track to win back trust”.
Esther McVey, who was set to become deputy prime minister under the former health secretary should he have been victorious, said the combination of the pair was “clearly not considered the right one”.
“Clearly the combination of Jeremy and me was not considered the right one, but I very much hope that the Parliamentary Party adopts the spirit of what we were trying to achieve – putting together a programme the party can unite behind to win the next election,” the former Cabinet member and MP for Tatton said in a statement.
“The remaining candidates all have immense talent and strengths. I will take some time speaking with them all before deciding who to vote for in the remainder of this election process.”
During his campaign, Mr Hunt promised to slash corporation tax and raise defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2028.