Liz Truss is today mounting an all-out bid to overhaul Penny Mordaunt in the Tory leadership race as the four remaining hopefuls prepare for another crucial knockout vote.
Conservative MPs will reduce the number to three this afternoon, with Rishi Sunak seemingly guaranteed a place on the final run-off ballot of party members – but the race for second place is still too close to call.
After a slow start, Ms Truss is hoping to build on her momentum from last night’s vote when she added seven more supporters to take her tally to 71.
Tory leadership contest – round three results
Rishi Sunak: 115 votes
Penny Mordaunt: 82 votes
Liz Truss: 71 votes
Kemi Badenoch: 58 votes
Tom Tugendhat: 31 votes – out
Although she still trails Ms Mordaunt in numbers, the business minister’s early rise appears to have stalled as she fell to 82 votes. Cammy Badenoch will be the favorite for eviction today, but is still in touch after racking up nine more supporters to reach. 58.
Ms Truss has been wooing supporters of ex-soldier Tom Tugendhat, who stepped down and was sacked last night, by pledging to raise defense spending to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030.
“We live in an increasingly dangerous world where threat levels are higher than even a decade ago, and we need a strong resilience to meet those threats and ensure the UK leads on the global stage,” she said.
‘Ultimately this requires more resources. My first priority is to keep this country safe and people can trust me.’
But his rivals are also loving Mr Tugendhat, with Ms Mordaunt tweeting she had ‘admired’ him for years and Ms Badenoch saying he would be an ‘asset’ to any future Conservative government.
Leaving home this morning, Ms Badenoch said it was still ‘all in play’.
It was feared that Mr. Sunak’s team would not add much to his tally, but they were delighted when he raised his score from 101 to 115 in the event.
Anything above 120 guarantees a place in the bottom two, as there are a total of 358 Conservative MPs.
Mr Sunak is trying to shore up his Tory support today by promising tougher sentences for criminals who refuse to appear in court for their sentencing hearings and a crackdown on grooming gangs.
He has also been boosted by the support of former leader Lord Hague, who hailed him as an ‘extraordinary man’ who could be trusted ‘in one of the most difficult times to be prime minister in our lifetime: certainly since 1979, possibly since 1945’. .
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are still in a leadership battle as it enters the final stages before Tory members go to the ballot.
Kimi Badenoch could be the kingmaker to choose the United Kingdom’s next prime minister after winning the third ballot in the Tory leadership race on Monday night.
Penny Mordaunt’s early rise appears to have stalled as she was voted down to 822 in the third round last night.
After the last episode of last night’s drama, the candidates and their assistants tried to put the best shine on their performances.
A Truss campaign spokesman said: ‘Liz is the candidate to lead a bold new economic vision, deliver tax cuts, deliver the benefits of Brexit, unify the party and win the general election.
‘Tom Tugendhat ran a campaign he can be proud of and has shown a depth of quality in the Conservative Party.
“Now is the time to pursue the best candidate to deliver the economic change we need.”
Former Tory leader Sir Ian Duncan Smith, who backed Ms Truss, insisted she had ‘moved forward’ while Ms Mordaunt’s campaign had ‘stalled and gone backwards’.
However, Ms Mordaunt said her ‘vote remains stable’. ‘My vote remains firm and I am grateful to my colleagues for all their support and am thrilled to be second again. MPs know that I am a strong candidate, run a really clean campaign and have a positive outlook for the party and our country.
‘Tom Tugendhat MP is a friend and colleague I have admired over the years, I know we are both committed to a clean start for our party and I believe he is one of the strongest assets on the Conservative Green Benches. It is an honor to stand alongside him in this competition.’
Michael Gove, Ms Badenoch’s biggest supporter, earlier swiped that some prominent name supporters were experiencing ‘buyer’s remorse’.
And his candidate said: ‘It’s all for play. Constant pace, closing the gap, I’m the only change candidate in the race. I’m here to win.’
Sunak’s spokesman said he was ‘the candidate with the best plan to restore trust, rebuild the economy, reunify the country and beat Labor at the next election’.
Mr Tugendhat said: ‘I would like to thank my team, colleagues and most of all the British public for their support. I am delighted with the response from across the country. People are ready for a clean start and our party must fulfill it and restore faith in politics.
‘I wish the remaining candidates well and look forward to serving the British people and fully supporting the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.’
There was intense intrigue in Westminster after it emerged that the candidates had endured their final TV debate at this stage.
Sky News canceled a showdown planned for tonight after both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss pulled out, with sources saying they wanted to limit the interviews.
The results of the third round were announced in Parliament by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee
Rishi Sunak has seen his votes rise steadily in the competition, but Penny Mordant faded badly in the last round.
Ms Badenoch said it was ‘all to play for’ and she would be ‘closing the gap’ on her rivals ahead of the next round tomorrow.
How the Tory leadership race will play out
today – A fourth ballot will be placed to reduce the number to three.
Wednesday: Assuming no one leaves, a fifth ballot will decide the final pairing, ending the parliamentary phase of the competition.
21 July – MPs get away from Westminster for their summer break.
Late July and August – CCHQ will take charge of the leadership election and send ballot papers to around 200,000 Conservative Party members. The Tory grassroots will be asked to decide between the final two candidates, with husting events being held across the UK.
5 September – The results of the membership ballot are announced, the candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote is announced as the new Tory leader and Boris Johnson’s replacement as Prime Minister.
6 September – The new Tory leader is likely to be formally appointed Prime Minister during the Queen’s visit to Buckingham Palace.
7 September – The new Prime Minister will be asked a question in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions for the first time.
Mr Sunak tweeted: ‘I want to thank all my colleagues who supported me tonight.
‘Together we can rebuild our economy, save Brexit and defeat Labour.’
George Freeman, a leading supporter of Ms Mordaunt, tried to put a brave face on the results, predicting she would pick up ‘a lot’ of Mr Tugendhat’s supporters now that he has dropped out of the contest.
He told Sky News: ‘After three days of fighting she’s been in the media, to be honest I’m happy she’s come second.
‘No one has been more viciously attacked in the Tory press than Penny Mordaunt and her support is strong.
‘I think tonight’s story is that Cammy Badenoch is going to be the heroine on the right side, she’s got a lot of votes.
‘I think what you’re going to see now is that one-nation support base for Tom Tugendhat… I think a lot of them will come to Penny as one-nation compassionate Conservatives.’
Concerned for Ms Mordaunt, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, one of Mr Tugendhat’s key aides, said her supporters expected her to ‘travel as a pack’ to see who to back next.
And she reiterated her criticism of Ms Mordaunt’s performance as business minister, saying colleagues had to ‘pick up the pieces’ as she spent months planning a leadership bid.
‘In our case, at the Department of International Trade, the challenge is that he is – in many circumstances – not available to carry out visits or parliamentary duties, which are required in many ways. ‘ said Ms Trevelyan.
Mr Duncan Smith told Sky News that Ms Truss was in a ‘prime position’ to make the run-off.
‘You understand how these things work, what happens – in this round – the ones who go ahead will be the ones who benefit in the next round,’ he said.
‘Liz is definitely into it, she’s in a prime position to do that. Because there’s still a lot of votes sitting around that are likely to come to Lease once it’s settled.’
Sir Ian claimed support for Ms Badenoch had surged because Tory MPs ‘wanted to stop the penny’, adding: ‘Now they have to decide who to vote for.’
He urged Ms Badenoch’s supporters to ‘come together with Liz’.
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who backed Mr Sunak, hailed a ‘very solid result’ for the former chancellor.
‘We’re hopeful but we’re not taking anything for granted,’ he told Sky News when asked if Mr Sunak was pegged to make it to the final pair.
‘If you look at where the votes went, Rishi was up 14 – a strong showing compared to the other candidates when Suella (Braverman) dropped out of the race and the independent votes were less likely to go her way. ‘