Sunak ahead as Hunt and Zahawi knocked out of Tory leadership race

Results in from first round of knockout votes in contest to decide next party leader and prime minister

Rishi Sunak has taken an early lead in the Conservative leadership contest, as Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi were knocked out of the race to replace Boris Johnson.

The remaining six candidates will face a further ballot on Thursday, with more expected to follow as early as next Monday.

Under the rules for the contest – set by the 1922 Committee of backbenchers – MPs needed 20 supporters to be officially included in the election, and more than 30 to progress to the second round.

Zahawi, who was made chancellor last week as Johnson tried to shore up his dying government, gained 25 votes, while Hunt, the former health and foreign secretary who lost out in the final stage of the 2019 leadership election, got 18.

Sunak, the former chancellor, remained the frontrunner with 88 votes, while Penny Mordaunt, a trade minster, had her chances buoyed by taking second place with 67.

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, got 50 votes, and Kemi Badenoch, who stood down as a minister last week, got 40.

Two candidates just made it over the line – Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs committee, with 37 backers and Suella Braverman, the attorney general who was the first person to declare her intention to run last week, with 32.

The announcement will start a new bun fight among Tory candidates still in the race for the supporters of those who were knocked out. Hunt and Zahawi’s public backers stood at 14.

comp of Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Tom Tugendhat, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman,
From top left: Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, Tom Tugendhat, Liz Truss, Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman – the remaining candidates. Composite: PR

The result suggests Hunt was lent support on Tuesday night, given he needed 20 backers to make it on to the first ballot, but at least two of those deserted him when it came to Wednesday’s vote.

He hit out at the “smears and attacks” that he said might have brought rivals “short-term tactical gain but always backfire long term”, adding: “The nation is watching and they’ve had enough of our drama.”

Zahawi, rocked by a series of allegations about his financial affairs, was dubbed “a scandal waiting to happen” by colleagues.

Afterwards, Zahawi said: “Clearly my part in the contest has now ended,” and that “with total focus, I will concentrate on my key role as chancellor and steward of the nation’s finances”.

Neither immediately endorsed another candidate, with a rival campaign source telling the Guardian: “Don’t assume that their column of supporters will all go neatly to one other camp. It’s not solitaire.”

However, one supporter of Tugendhat said there would be negotiations with Hunt about a potential endorsement and they were hopeful of winning over at least half his backers and Zahawi’s. They stressed he would not drop out of the contest because the main aim was making it to the TV debates – starting on Channel 4 on Friday – so he could “do a David Cameron” and show he was the best candidate to connect with the public.

Another MP said they had been explicitly told by Hunt that his initial instinct was to endorse Tugendhat.

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In Thursday’s vote, there will be no minimum threshold that candidates need to stay in the race, but the one who comes last will be eliminated.

Truss urged colleagues to “unite behind” her, stressing she would press ahead with tax cuts, deliver “real economic change” and support Ukraine in its war with Russia, a spokesperson for her said.


Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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