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More Tories have declared their allegiances in what is gearing up to be a fierce race for the top job, as a Cabinet minister previously tipped to be a front-runner has ruled himself out of the contest.
So far ministers past and present have thrown their hats into the ring, but Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has announced that after “careful consideration” and discussion with colleagues and family, he will not be running to be leader and the next prime minister.
Former chancellor Rishi Sunak, Attorney General Suella Braverman, ex-minister Kemi Badenoch and senior Tory Tom Tugendhat have all launched their bids with further announcements anticipated over the coming days.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is widely expected to stand, while other potential front-runners include trade minister Penny Mordaunt, Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, and former health secretaries Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.
It was reported on Saturday that Boris Johnson intends to stand down as Prime Minister on Monday in order to run again for Tory leader.
But this suggestion was knocked down by a spokesperson for Mr Johnson as completely untrue.
Tory MP Mark Francois has said he believes at least 12 people will put their names forward.
He told GB News: “I haven’t yet decided who I am going to vote for.
“It looks like this is going to be the Grand National but without the fences, so we are probably heading for at least a dozen candidates at the moment.”
After careful consideration and discussing with colleagues and family, I have taken the decision not to enter the contest for leadership of the Conservative Party. I am very grateful to all my parliamentary colleagues and wider members who have pledged support. 1/2
— Rt. Hon Ben Wallace MP (@BWallaceMP) July 9, 2022
In a statement on social media, Mr Wallace said: “After careful consideration and discussing with colleagues and family, I have taken the decision not to enter the contest for leadership of the Conservative Party.
“I am very grateful to all my parliamentary colleagues and wider members who have pledged support.
“It has not been an easy choice to make, but my focus is on my current job and keeping this great country safe.
“I wish the very best of luck to all candidates and hope we swiftly return to focusing on the issues that we are all elected to address.”
Ms Badenoch announced her campaign in The Times, with a plan for a smaller state and a government “focused on the essentials”.
She is backed by Lee Rowley, the MP for North East Derbyshire, and Tom Hunt, the MP for Ipswich.
Former minister Steve Baker has thrown his support behind Ms Braverman’s bid, despite previously saying he was seriously considering putting himself forward for the top job.
Those publicly backing Mr Sunak include Commons Leader Mark Spencer, former Tory Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden, former chief whip Mark Harper, ex-ministers Liam Fox and Andrew Murrison, and MPs Sir Bob Neill, Paul Maynard and Louie French.
Other potential contenders have also received endorsements from Tory ranks, despite not yet launching a bid of their own.
I’m very pleased to be supporting Kemi to become the next Prime Minister. She excites me more than anyone else. I genuinely believe she has the ability to inspire and lead. Unashamedly patriotic, brave and authentic. https://t.co/X7WvNLup6U
— Tom Hunt MP (@tomhunt1988) July 9, 2022
MPs Chloe Smith, Julian Knight and Jackie-Doyle Price have backed Ms Truss, while Tory peer and minister Lord Goldsmith has said Mr Zahawi “stands apart from most rivals”.
Gosport MP Dame Caroline Dinenage has declared her support for Ms Mordaunt, while former ministers Chris Philp and Rachel Maclean have said Mr Javid would be their choice for PM.
The leadership bids to date have coincided with some controversy over the appointment of new ministers to Mr Johnson’s caretaker Cabinet.
Labour shadow minister Steve Reed lashed out at the Conservative Party after Sarah Dines, who reportedly asked an alleged victim of Chris Pincher if he was gay, was made parliamentary under-secretary of state jointly at the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
Meanwhile, Mr Spencer said it was up to Andrea Jenkyns to “justify” her actions after she was caught on camera appearing to make a rude gesture while entering Downing Street.
The Tory MP made the sign with her hand as she walked through the black gates, prior to being named education minister.
Ms Dines said she was “honoured” by her appointment, while Ms Jenkyns said she was looking forward to working with the team at the Department for Education.
Mr Sunak announced his bid for leader on Twitter on Friday afternoon, saying: “Let’s restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country.”
I’m standing to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister.
Let’s restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country. #Ready4Rishi
— Ready For Rishi (@RishiSunak) July 8, 2022
He had come under fire from Johnson loyalists even before the launch, with Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg denouncing him as a “high tax chancellor” who failed to curb inflation.
The absence of a clear front-runner in the leadership race has tempted a number of less-fancied contenders to step forward with backbencher John Baron saying he will be “taking soundings” over the weekend.
Tory MP and newly-appointed minister Rehman Chishti also confirmed on Saturday he is “actively considering” running for the post.
As candidates have started to make their move, Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said it is incumbent on those running for leader that they “don’t knock lumps out of each other”.
“They are all Conservatives. I think we’ve got to get through the thinning process very, very quickly,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Following elections to the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee on Monday, the new body will draw up a timetable for the leadership election.
Sir Charles said the process of selecting a new Tory leader could be “truncated” by waving regional hustings.
But he said this would favour the better known candidate, adding: “It would require the less well known candidate to say, ‘OK, I’m happy with that’, because they will see the hustings around the country where the membership are invited to as a chance to build their profile and reputation, if that makes sense.
“You could say no hustings, end of July straight to the membership, we’ll have this done and dusted, say, by the end of the first week of August.”