Nadhim Zahawi and Jeremy Hunt dumped from Tory leadership contest

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Nadhim Zahawi and Jeremy Hunt (James Manning/Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Nadhim Zahawi and Jeremy Hunt (James Manning/Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and former Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt have been eliminated from the race to succeed Boris Johnson after the first round of voting by Tory MPs.

Rishi Sunak, whose resignation from No 11 helped trigger the Tory leadership race, topped the ballot, with trade minister Penny Mordaunt ahead of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Senior backbencher Tom Tugendhat, Attorney General Suella Braverman and former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch also progressed to the final six candidates.

Mr Zahawi along with Mr Hunt, who has held the offices of health and foreign secretary, both failed to get the 30 votes required to get to the next stage.

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservative 1922 committee overseeing the contest, read out the results in a crowded Committee Room 14 in the House of Commons.

Mr Sunak was on 88, Ms Mordaunt on 67, Ms Truss, 50, Ms Badenoch, 40, Mr Tugendhat, 37, and Ms Braverman squeaked through on 32.

Mr Zahawi, brought in by Mr Johnson after Mr Sunak’s resignation, got 25 and Mr Hunt only 18.

Ms Truss sought to unite the right of the party, as subsequent voting from Thursday will eliminate the least popular candidate until two are left.

“Now is the time for colleagues to unite behind the candidate who will cut taxes, deliver the real economic change we need from day one and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine,” a spokeswoman for the Foreign Secretary said.

Zahawi-backer Jonathan Gullis suggested the campaigns should now get behind a single standard-bearer for the party’s right-wing.

But, in conceding defeat, Mr Zahawi declined to announce his backing of a favoured candidate, saying he does not “intend to make any further intervention”.

The first round of voting came after Downing Street was forced to deny running a “stop Sunak” smear campaign as the battle grew increasingly bitter.

The caretaker Prime Minister’s press secretary insisted that Mr Johnson is “staying neutral” despite his remaining arch-loyalists throwing their support behind Ms Truss.

Two of them, Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg, announced their backing and stepped up their public criticism of Mr Sunak after leaving Mr Johnson’s Cabinet meeting.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

Ms Dorries, the Culture Secretary, accused the former chancellor’s campaign of deploying “dirty tricks” to benefit his campaign and backed Ms Truss as the Brexiteers’ candidate.

Brexit opportunities minister Mr Rees-Mogg accused Mr Sunak of having implemented “economically damaging” policies.

Asked if No 10 is involved in an anti-Sunak operation as the first round of voting loomed, Mr Johnson’s press secretary bluntly said: “No.”

She declined to say whether Downing Street remains supportive of the former chancellor, whose resignation helped end Mr Johnson’s grip on No 10.

The press secretary said she did not know whether Mr Johnson discussed backing Ms Truss with his allies before they made their public declaration in Downing Street.

“He’s staying neutral in this contest,” the spokeswoman said.

Mr Rees-Mogg argued that the Foreign Secretary is “fiscally on the right side of the argument”, unlike Mr Sunak.

The minister told Sky News that Ms Truss “opposed the endless tax rises of the former chancellor, which I think have been economically damaging, I also was opposed to (them) in Cabinet”.

He also said Ms Truss – who voted Remain in the 2016 European Union referendum – is more willing to take advantage of Brexit than Leave-voting Mr Sunak.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended Rishi Sunak (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended Rishi Sunak (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who abandoned his own leadership bid to back Mr Sunak, denied claims from Ms Dorries that the campaign has engaged in dirty tricks.

“Simply, in this case it just didn’t happen,” he said.

Meanwhile, trade minister Ms Mordaunt officially launched her campaign by telling colleagues who had been fearful of losing their seats under Mr Johnson’s leadership that she is their “best shot” at winning the next election.

“I’m the candidate that Labour fear the most – and they’re right to,” she told Conservatives at Westminster’s Cinnamon Club.

Seen as one of the frontrunners in the race, Ms Mordaunt declined to describe Mr Johnson as a good Prime Minister, instead thanking him for delivering Brexit.

Ms Mordaunt insisted she is “very different” from Mr Johnson but indicated she would not call an early general election to win her own mandate if she entered No 10.

The naval reservist and former defence secretary pledged to return to traditional Conservative values of “low tax, small state and personal responsibility”.

She said she stands by the Conservative manifesto commitment to meet the Nato target for defence spending of 2% of GDP and increase it by 0.5% above inflation every year.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Health Secretary Steve Barclay (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

She won the backing of Sir Mike Penning, who resigned as Conservative Party vice-chairman to campaign for Ms Mordaunt.

“I think the momentum is still going with her,” he told Sky News.

The next ballot will be held on Thursday, when the candidate who wins the fewest votes to be eliminated. The process will continue until two are left.

The final pair will spend the summer battling it out to win the support of Conservative members, with their choice of the next prime minister being unveiled on September 5.

Mr Johnson will formally tender his resignation to the Queen to make way for his successor the following day, his official spokesman confirmed.

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