Rishi races ahead as Raab and Shapps back former Chancellor in leadership race

12 July 2022, 11:07 | Updated: 12 July 2022, 17:59

  • Frontrunner Sunak streaks ahead in Tory leadership race
  • Raab and Shapps back former Chancellor for PM
  • Liz Truss tries to unite the right with backing of Dorries and Rees-Mogg
  • Shapps pulls out of leadership contest to back Sunak at his launch event
  • Sajid Javid rules himself out ahead of nominations announcement
  • Unlikely candidate Rehman Chishti drops out

By Asher McShane

Tory leadership frontrunner Rishi Sunak secured the backing of big beast Tories Dominic Raab and Grant Shapps as the battle for Downing Street stepped up a gear.

Hours before the nominations for Tory leadership contenders closed, Mr Sunak appeared well ahead as rival Liz Truss tried to rally the right with the backing of Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Dropping out the running Mr Shapps said: "Huge thanks to my team for helping to pull together my leadership bid in literally no time!

"Amongst a field of brilliant candidates I've spoken to @RishiSunak who I believe has the competence and experience to lead this country."

He was joined in dropping his leadership bid by Sajid Javid, who sensationally quit the cabinet as health secretary last week, and the unlikely candidate Rehman Chisti before the results of Tory nominations were due at 6pm.

Mr Raab gave his backing to Mr Sunak to be next Tory leader, and therefore prime minister, at Mr Sunak's official campaign launch.

Read more: Labour to table motion of no confidence in Govt as Boris to remain PM for 8 weeks

Mr Raab said: "While others talk the talk, Rishi this month delivered the biggest tax cut for working people in a decade. He did it because he is a true Conservative."

Rishi Sunak at his leadership bid launch event today
Rishi Sunak at his leadership bid launch event today. Picture: Alamy

Mr Sunak has said he that he is not prepared to "demonise" caretaker PM Boris Johnson to gain the Tory party leadership.

At his campaign launch in London, the former chancellor said that while Mr Johnson was "flawed" and that he had often disagreed with him, he also had a "good heart".

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

Grant Shapps pulled out of the leadership contest today and declared support for Sunak
Grant Shapps pulled out of the leadership contest today and declared support for Sunak. Picture: Alamy

"I am running a positive campaign focused on what my leadership can offer our party and our country.

"I will not engage in the negativity you have seen and read in the media. If others wish to do that, then let them.

"That is not who we are. We can be better than that."

He also took a swipe at rival candidates, suggesting their tax plans are "not credible" as he said he would only reduce them after inflation is under control.

The former chancellor said: "It is not credible to promise lots more spending and lower taxes.

"I had to make some of the most difficult choices of my life as chancellor, in particular how to deal with our debt and borrowing after Covid. I have never hidden away from those, I certainly won't pretend now the choices I made and the things I voted for were somehow not necessary.

"While that may be politically inconvenient for me, it is also the truth. As is the fact that once we've gripped inflation, I will get the tax burden down. It is a question of when, not if."

Earlier, the caretaker Prime Minister's arch loyalists Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg came out in support of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in a bid to block Mr Sunak.

The Culture Secretary and the Brexit opportunities minister gave their public backing to Ms Truss when speaking to reporters in Downing Street after attending Mr Johnson's Cabinet meeting.

Following Education Secretary James Cleverly in backing Ms Truss, Mr Rees-Mogg said she has "always opposed Rishi's higher taxes, that again is proper conservativism".

Ms Dorries said Ms Truss, who voted Remain in the 2016 referendum, is probably a "stronger Brexiteer than both of us" and has "consistently argued for low tax policies".

Leadership rival Nadhim Zahawi lashed out at his predecessor Mr Sunak's reluctance to do more now, saying it is not a "fairytale" to cut taxes to ease the cost-of-living crisis.

Mr Sunak will receive heavyweight support from another ex-chancellor, Lord Lamont, who said Mr Sunak has the courage to take the "tough decisions" needed to deal with the "extremely serious" economic situation.

Candidates require the support of 20 MPs in order to make the leadership contest, with nominations closing later on Tuesday.

By Tuesday morning, Mr Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat look to already have the declared backers to make the threshold.

Several other candidates - including Liz Truss, Mr Zahawi, Jeremy Hunt and Kemi Badenoch - were close enough before nominations formally opened to suggest they will be in the race.

Mr Sunak - who has the most declarations of support so far - is alone among the contenders to succeed Mr Johnson in not promising immediate tax cuts if he wins.

He has come under attack from allies of the Prime Minister, who believe his announcement last week that he is quitting helped trigger the slew of resignations which forced Mr Johnson to admit his time is up.

In the past, Mr Rees-Mogg has described him scathingly as the "much-lamented socialist chancellor" who put up taxes while failing to curb inflation.

In his address, Mr Sunak will defend his record while seeking to make a virtue of his willingness to confront difficult economic realities in the wake of the pandemic.

"We need a return to traditional Conservative economic values - and that means honesty and responsibility, not fairytales," he will say.

"I have had to make some of the most difficult choices in my life when I was chancellor, in particular how to deal with our debt and borrowing after Covid.

"I have never hidden away from those, and I certainly won't pretend now that the choices I made, and the things I voted for, were somehow not necessary. Whilst this may be politically inconvenient, it is the truth.

"My message to the party and the country is simple: I have a plan to steer our country through these headwinds. Once we have gripped inflation, I will get the tax burden down. It is a question of 'when', not 'if'."

But Mr Zahawi used his campaign launch video to say: "I believe cutting taxes isn't a fairytale but rather a critical step to tackle the cost-of-living crisis."

Candidates need the backing of 20 MPs by 6pm on Tuesday to make it through to the ballot.

Under the timetable set out by 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, the first ballot of MPs will take place on Wednesday, with candidates failing to get 30 votes being eliminated, with a second 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 - who will go forward into a ballot of party members.

The new prime minister will be announced on September 5 when MPs return to Westminster from their summer break.

This story is being updated