Tory race to be next PM enters final hours with focus on Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt is under pressure to secure enough support go head-to-head with frontrunner Rishi Sunak in the race to become the UK’s next prime minister.

The former chancellor currently has the most declared backers among Conservative MPs.

Now the question remains as to whether Ms Mordaunt can get 100 MPs to back her before nominations close at 14:00 BST.

Tory MPs are now rallying behind the final two after Boris Johnson withdrew.

In a statement late on Sunday, Mr Johnson – who only stood down as prime minister seven weeks ago – claimed he had met the threshold required to stand in the contest.

Many of Mr Johnson’s supporters were caught by surprise at his abrupt withdrawal. Essex MP James Duddridge, who gave the first indication that Mr Johnson was intending to run in the Tory leadership race, simply tweeted: “Well that was unexpected. Off to bed!”

Other backers of Mr Johnson – including former cabinet minister Nadine Dorries – have suggested he was the only candidate who had mandate to be prime minister and a general election looked unavoidable following his withdrawal.

With Mr Johnson out of the leadership race, several MPs have begun switching their nominations to the two remaining candidates.

Of the Tory MPs who have gone public with who they are backing, 167 have supported Mr Sunak and 26 have supported Ms Mordaunt.

Ms Mordaunt’s team said she was still in the running and within “touching distance” of getting enough backers, while Mr Sunak’s team said they were taking nothing for granted.

Damian Green, former cabinet minister in Theresa May’s government and who is backing Ms Mordaunt, said her numbers are “well above” the published figure.

“We’re confident of getting to 100 before the deadline of two o’clock and putting to colleagues that the case that Penny is the person best positioned to unify the party,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

If she does reach 100 backers, the race could then go to an online ballot of Conservative Party members, with the winner of that being announced by Friday.

Mr Sunak is the firm favourite to replace Ms Truss as PM and could do so by as early as Monday afternoon if Ms Mordaunt fails to meet the benchmark.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who scrapped many of Ms Truss’s major economic plans announced in September’s mini-budget, has endorsed Mr Sunak.

In a piece in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Mr Hunt said: “To restore stability and confidence, we need a leader who can be trusted to make difficult choices.

“We have a leader who can do just that in Rishi Sunak.”

He added that Mr Sunak had been “proved right” over his “unfunded tax cut” warnings during the summer’s Tory leadership campaign.

Whoever wins the race will be the UK’s third prime minister in less than two months.

But there are growing calls from opposition parties for an immediate general election – with Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner saying Mr Sunak had not given a public interview since the leadership process began.

“The Tories are about to hand Rishi Sunak the keys to the country without him saying a single word about how he would govern,” she said. “No one voted for this.

“Perhaps it’s not surprising he’s avoiding scrutiny: after all, he was so bad that just a few weeks ago he was trounced by Liz Truss.

“It’s why we need an election now – people deserve a vote on the future of the country.”

SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford also said Tory MPs should put pressure on their next leader to immediately call for a general election.

“That the Tories can foist upon us a third prime minister in just three years without an election, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and economic crisis of their making, speaks to how unfair and undemocratic this Westminster system is,” he said.

In his statement withdrawing from the contest, Mr Johnson said a general election would be “a further disastrous distraction when the government must focus on the economic pressures faced by families across the country”, but said he was the person “uniquely placed to avert [one]”.

And his supporter, the former culture secretary Nadine Dorries, said it would now be impossible to avoid a general election, taking aim at the remaining two candidates.

Ms Dorries tweeted that Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt, “despite requests from Boris, refused to unite, which would have made governing utterly impossible”.

Ms Johnson’s former director of communications, Will Walden, said he thought Mr Sunak would now win the leadership contest, adding: “I think that will probably lead to a general election.”

But Home Secretary Grant Shapps rejected the idea of an early general election, insisting people voted for the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto.

“The 2019 manifesto is a document, if anything, that would be more adhered to by Rishi, if he becomes prime minister, than perhaps has been the case in the last couple of months,” Mr Shapps told Today.

Liz Truss, who replaced Mr Johnson in No 10 following a lengthy leadership campaign in the summer, resigned as prime minister after 45 days in office marked by turmoil. She will become the shortest-serving prime minister in British history when she stands down.

Source: BBC

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