Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will go head-to-head to become the next leader of the Conservative Party – and prime minister of the UK – after Penny Mordaunt became the latest candidate to be knocked out of the contest.
In the fifth and final round of voting by Tory MPs, the leadership contenders received the following support:
- Ms Mordaunt – 105 votes
- Mr Sunak – 137 votes
- Ms Truss – 113 votes
There were two spoiled ballots and one person did not vote.
Ms Mordaunt had been second in all previous rounds of voting, but a late surge by Ms Truss – who gained 27 votes in 24 hours – cost her a place on the ballot, with only eight votes separating the pair.
The leader of the race, former Chancellor Mr Sunak, gained 19 supporters, while Ms Mordaunt could only recruit an extra 13.
Now it will be down to the wider Conservative Party membership to decide on its next leader from the final two after a summer of hustings, with a result set to be announced on 5 September.
Sky News has also announced it will hold a live TV debate between Mr Sunak and Ms Truss on Thursday 4 August, hosted by Kay Burley.
Speaking after the result, trade minister Ms Mordaunt said she would “continue to work hard” to repay those who supported her and stressed that Conservative MPs “must all now work together to unify our party”.
She also congratulated Mr Sunak and Ms Truss, saying: “I pay tribute to anyone who puts themselves forward for such a demanding role.”
Ms Mordaunt added: “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.
“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”.
Both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss spoke to reporters after the result as they made final pitches ahead of six weeks of campaigning.
The former chancellor said he would tackle the problems the UK faces “with honesty and responsibility”.
He also promised to “support people… grow our economy and take advantage of the freedoms that Brexit gives us”.
But Mr Sunak’s main message to the membership was about when the whole country goes to the polls.
“Crucially I am the person who is best placed to beat Keir Starmer in the next election and that’s the question Conservative members are going to have to consider,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ms Truss said if elected as Tory leader she would “hit the ground running from day one”.
The foreign secretary added: “We have got two years until a likely next general election and I want to deliver for people.
“I want to deliver lower taxes, I want to help struggling families, I want to make sure that we unleash all the potential and talent across Britain.
“That has been my focus throughout this campaign and that is what I am going to be campaigning on over the next six weeks right around the country.”
But Labour’s Conor McGinn described both runners as “continuity candidates”, accusing them of being “stooges of the Johnson administration whose fingerprints are all over the state the country finds itself in today”.
He added: “Both are now desperately trying to distance themselves from the Tory record of the last 12 years. But both have backed every decision, including every one of Boris Johnson’s 15 tax rises.”
The ballot will close on 2 September, and whoever is named the winner on 5 September is expected to replace Mr Johnson as prime minister the following day.
But first comes the hustings, organised by the Conservative Party, which will begin in Leeds on Thursday before similar events across all four nations of the UK.
Mr Sunak and Ms Truss will also face an event organised by the Conservative Councillors Association tomorrow.
Around 160,000 members were eligible to vote in the previous leadership election that saw the current PM defeat Jeremy Hunt, but that number is expected to have increased since then.
Yesterday, former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch was knocked out of the leadership race after receiving the fewest number of votes.
But a YouGov poll of Conservative members published ahead of Tuesday’s vote showed she would have beaten any of her rivals in a final head-to-head.
The same poll also suggested that Mr Sunak would struggle to win over the Tory membership irrespective of which of the remaining candidates he may face in the final two.
But one of his backers, Tory MP Victoria Prentis, said “nobody knows” what the membership are thinking, telling Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “It is very hard to tell who stands foremost in the members mind, but they have got time to make up their minds.”