Tory leadership contest: Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss to be next prime minister

Rishi Sunak declared he is the only Tory leadership candidate who could defeat Labour at the next general election as he prepares to go head-to-head with Liz Truss in the battle to succeed Boris Johnson as the UK’s next prime minister.

The former chancellor and the foreign secretary finished in the top two places following five rounds of voting by Tory MPs, after Penny Mordaunt was eliminated from the Tory leadership race.

And he quickly used the result to frame himself as the party’s best prospect of reining in the polling lead enjoyed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, as he insisted “I want to be honest with the British people about the challenges we face".

Ms Truss – installed by bookmakers as favourite to win the contest – described it as “really important to have this debate in the Conservative Party” as she said she had been entirely focused on a “positive campaign”.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss taking part in Britain's Next Prime Minister: The ITV Debate

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Mr Sunak, the former chancellor, once again topped the ballot among Tory MPs, securing 137 votes to Ms Truss’s 113.

Ms Mordaunt received 105 votes, meaning she was eliminated from the contest.

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss will now face a campaign to win the votes of around 160,000 Tory members, with the result announced on September 5.

And the pair will face off in at least two TV debates, after Sky News confirmed it would hold one next month after an earlier televised appearance was cancelled in the wake of fiery clashes between the candidates.

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The broadcaster secured an hour-long head to head between the final two vying for the Tory leadership to take place on August 4, and to be hosted by broadcaster Kay Burley. The BBC will host its own debate on Monday.

After voting to oust Mr Johnson, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross chose to publicly back both remaining candidates, saying the leadership contest had shown only the Conservatives had the “talented individuals” capable of leading the country.

“I will work with whoever emerges victorious from the vote by party members,” he said.

“The next six weeks offer a chance for both Rishi and Liz to outline their policies and vision to the membership and I look forward to seeing that happen across the country, including at the Scottish hustings.”

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It came as the bitter contest for the keys to Number 10 faced another twist after an investigation was launched into allegations that material was leaked from within the civil service to supposedly damage the campaign of Ms Mordaunt.

Simon Case, the most senior civil servant in the country, confirmed an inquiry had been launched into allegations of leaking.

Ms Mordaunt had been second in all previous rounds of voting, but a late surge by Ms Truss cost her a place on the ballot.

The foreign secretary gained 27 votes, Mr Sunak put on 19 while Ms Mordaunt could only gain an extra 13 supporters.

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Mr Sunak’s campaign said he had secured a “clear mandate” from Tory MPs and would now “work night and day” to win the backing of the Conservative membership.

The statement said: “The choice for members is very simple: who is the best person to beat Labour at the next election? The evidence shows that’s Rishi.”

Ms Truss said: “I am excited to now take to the country to make the case to the Conservative Party about my bold new economic plan that will cut taxes, grow our economy and unleash the potential of everyone in our United Kingdom.

“As Prime Minister I would hit the ground running from day one, unite the party and govern in line with Conservative values.”

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The right of the party has coalesced around Ms Truss, despite the foreign secretary voting Remain in 2016.

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s ex-chief aide and a former director of Vote Leave, described Ms Truss on Twitter as a “truly useless Remainer”.

He claimed Mr Johnson, of whom he is now a fierce critic, was backing her because she is “mad as a box of snakes and [he] is thinking ‘there’s a chance she blows, there’s another contest and I can return’”.

Previous TV debates saw the remaining two candidates fiercely clash with each other and some Tories fear the damage further public rows will cause to the party.

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During the ITV debate on Sunday, Ms Truss accused the former chancellor of choking economic growth by raising taxes, while he accused her of “something-for-nothing economics”.

The pair also traded personal barbs about their backgrounds.

While Mr Sunak enjoys the support of more Tory MPs, polling by YouGov previously suggested he is not favoured by Tory members.

A survey of 725 members found 54 per cent would back Ms Truss over Mr Sunak, compared to 35 per cent who would support the former chancellor.

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Ms Mordaunt congratulated her two rivals and said: “I pay tribute to anyone who puts themselves forward for such a demanding role.

“Politics isn’t easy. It can be a divisive and difficult place.

“We must all now work together to unify our party and focus on the job that needs to be done.

“I am a One Nation, proud Brexiteer. My campaign put forward a positive vision for the country I love so much, remembering who we are here to serve.

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“Our mission is not only to deliver on what we promised, but to win the fight against Labour at the next general election. I hope to play my part in both.”

David Davis, one of Ms Mordaunt’s most prominent backers within the Conservative Party, wrote to Mr Case, the Cabinet Secretary, over the weekend to raise his concerns that information had been leaked to damage her leadership campaign.

In his response dated July 19, Mr Case said: “I have been very clear in writing with the civil service that it is paramount that public resources are not used to support leadership campaigns during the Conservative Party leadership election.

“Further to that, unauthorised disclosure of government information to the media is clearly inappropriate. In light of these facts and the concerns you raise, I can confirm that I have launched a leak investigation into this matter.”

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Mr Case gave no specific details of what the inquiry would focus on, but The Telegraph newspaper has reported it is thought to be linked to a leak to The Sunday Times related to accusations that Ms Mordaunt was involved in watering down the legal process for transitioning by transgender people.

“The investigation will be completed as quickly as possible given the importance of the subject,” Mr Case said.

In his final Prime Minister’s Questions appearance, Boris Johnson offered advice to his successor and what appeared to be a swipe at his former chancellor.

The Prime Minister has not publicly backed any of the candidates, but some of his closest allies have supported Ms Truss.

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Mr Sunak has said further tax cuts could only be delivered when inflation is under control and the public finances allow it, but Ms Truss has pledged to “start cutting taxes from day one”.

Mr Johnson’s advice was to “cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can and make this the greatest place to live and invest, which it is”.

He added the new prime minister should be prepared to ignore their chancellor, saying: “I love the Treasury, but remember that if we’d always listened to the Treasury we wouldn’t have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel.”

Mr Sunak’s resignation helped trigger the revolt against Mr Johnson, which ultimately led to him accepting he had to quit No 10.

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The Prime Minister said his successor should “focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “This Tory leadership contest is so scarily embarrassing both candidates pulled out of the [original Sky News] TV debate.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: "If Scotland had any say in the Tory leadership contest, both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak would have swiftly been shown the door. In this woeful race it's clear whoever wins, Scotland loses.”

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