Tory MPs prepare to vote in first round of leadership contest

Eight contenders will be on the ballot paper when Tory MPs begin voting for the next Prime Minister today after a dramatic day at Westminster where battle lines were drawn, the Cabinet split and allegations of “dirty tricks” emerged.

Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat, Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt, Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi and Suella Braverman all secured the 20 nominations from fellow MPs needed to enter the contest and face the vote today.

Just minutes before the shortlist was announced, former health secretary Sajid Javid said he was pulling out having apparently failed to attract enough support. That came after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that he was abandoning his bid and would be supporting Mr Sunak, the former chancellor.

Backbencher Rehman Chishti – seen as the rank outsider – also said that he was dropping out having failed to get enough nominations.

Eight candidates are on the ballot

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Meanwhile Ms Truss, the Foreign Secretary, gained the endorsement of prominent Boris Johnson loyalists Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and James Cleverly, in what was seen as a concerted move to prevent Mr Sunak entering No 10.

Many supporters of the Prime Minister remain furious with Mr Sunak for the role he played in bringing him down, with his decision last week to quit helping to trigger a further slew of resignations.

The Foreign Secretary’s campaign also received a potential fillip with the announcement by Home Secretary Priti Patel, a fellow right winger, that she would not be standing, giving Ms Truss a clearer run.

Ms Dorries accused Mr Sunak’s team of “dirty tricks” after claims that one of his supporters – ex-chief whip Gavin Williamson – had been trying to “syphon off” votes for Mr Hunt so he would make it to the final run-off with Mr Sunak.

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Rishi Sunak at the launch of his campaign to be Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister

“This is dirty tricks/a stitch up/dark arts. Take your pick. Team Rishi want the candidate they know they can definitely beat in the final two and that is Jeremy Hunt,” she tweeted.

The claim was denied by Mr Hunt, who said: “We are running completely independent campaigns.

“It’s a very dangerous game to play and so I think most people would be very wary before doing that sort of thing. I’m not saying it never happens.”

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In other developments, Labour angrily accused the Government of “running scared” after it refused to allow parliamentary time for a Commons vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson and his administration.

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The contenders now need 30 to survive Wednesday, with a second vote expected on Thursday.

The process is then likely to continue into next week, with candidate with the lowest vote dropping out, until the list of candidates is whittled down to just two.

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In an increasingly bitter war of words allies of Mr Johnson have rounded on Mr Sunak, branding him a “high tax chancellor” who had failed to spot the waring signs that inflation was on the rise.

Launching his campaign, Mr Sunak insisted it was a matter of “when not if” he started cutting taxes but that he would not do so until inflation was under control.

Backed by Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, he said it was “not credible to promise lots more spending and lower taxes”, in a swipe at rivals who have proposed multibillion-pound tax cuts immediately.

“We need a return to traditional Conservative economic values and that means honesty and responsibility, not fairytales,” he said.

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Mr Sunak also acknowledged he had “frequently” disagreed with Mr Johnson but said he would not “demonise” him.

He said: “I will have no part in a rewriting of history that seeks to demonise Boris, exaggerate his faults or deny his efforts”.

Mr Sunak also denied rumours Mr Cummings is secretly advising him and insisted they have not spoken since the former aide left No 10.

“Dominic Cummings has had absolutely nothing to do with this campaign and will have absolutely nothing to do with any government that I’m privileged to lead”.

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“For the record, I’ve not communicated with Dominic Cummings since the day he left Downing Street”.

Mr Zahawi, meanwhile, criticised his predecessor’s hesitancy, insisting it is not a “fairytale” to cut taxes to ease the cost-of-living crisis.

The current Chancellor also used an appearance before Conservative MPs to declare his strong support for the family – something he said had gone out of fashion.

“Family has become a taboo word in Westminster, and this has to change. Children thrive when they grow up in happy and healthy home environments, and we shouldn’t be shy about recognising that,” he said.

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Elsewhere Priti Patel confirmed she was not running amid warnings over the right-wing vote being split.

She said: “I am grateful for the encouragement and support colleagues and Party members have offered me in recent days in suggesting that I enter the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party. I will not be putting my name forward for the ballot of MPs.

“As Home Secretary I have always put the security and safety of our country and the national interest first and my focus is to continue working to get more police on our streets, support our amazing security services to keep our country safe and control our borders.

“As a lifelong and committed Conservative, I will always make the case for freedom, enterprise and opportunity and work with colleagues to deliver these values in Government.

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“Like all Conservative MPs and Party members, I will be listening to cases being put forward by the candidates standing for the leadership of the Party and trust the contest will be conducted in a good spirit that brings our Party together.”

A Labour spokeswoman said last night it was “unprecedented” for ministers not to allow parliamentary time for a vote of confidence which the party had been seeking.

But a Government spokesman hit back, accusing Labour of “playing politics” by tabling a motion of no confidence in the Government and the Prime Minister when Boris Johnson had already resigned.

“As the Prime Minister has already resigned and a leadership process is under way we do not feel this is a valuable use of parliamentary time,” the spokesman said.

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“Should Labour amend their motion appropriately, they can have the next business day for it to be debated.”

Labour, however, said the action represented a “flagrant abuse of power to protect a discredited Prime Minister” and called on the Tory leadership candidates to denounce it.

“This clapped-out Government is running scared and refusing to allow time to debate Labour’s vote of no confidence motion,” a spokeswoman said.

“This is totally unprecedented. Yet again the Tories are changing the rules to protect their own dodgy mates.”

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After a series of Labour MPs raised points of order in the Commons chamber, Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans said he expected the parties to resolve their differences themselves.

Speaking earlier, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The Tory party has at last concluded that the Prime Minister is unfit for office – that was blindingly obvious a very, very long time ago.

“They can’t now let him cling on for weeks and weeks and weeks, until September 5. It would be intolerable for the country.”

In practice, Labour’s motion had looked unlikely to succeed given that it could potentially trigger a general election.

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