The final six candidates to become the next leader of the Conservative Party – and prime minister – are readying themselves for a second round of votes later, which will see at least one of them eliminated from the race.
Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, leads the field, having gained support from 88 MPs in yesterday’s first round, followed by Penny Mordaunt with 67 and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss with 50.
But it is Ms Mordaunt who appears to be the most popular with the wider Tory party membership, topping polls by both YouGov and Conservative Home.
Politics Hub: Sunak and Mordaunt lead the way after first round
Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat and Attorney General Suella Braverman also made it through the first ballot with 40, 37 and 32 votes respectively.
Nadhim Zahawi, the newly appointed chancellor, and Jeremy Hunt missed out after failing to attract backing from at least 30 MPs.
Mr Hunt, the former foreign secretary, announced later that he was backing Mr Sunak, and he warned all candidates against using “smears and attacks”, saying: “The nation is watching and they’ve had enough of our drama.”
Tory MPs will begin their second round of voting at 11.30am this morning and have until 1.30pm to cast their ballot.
The result will then be announced by the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, at 3pm.
Whoever has the lowest number of supporters will be eliminated from the race, and the party will keep holding votes in the coming days until they are down to the final two.
The pair will then face a summer of hustings and a final vote for the wider Tory party membership before the winner is confirmed on 5 September.
Before today’s vote, Ms Truss will hold her official campaign launch, promising to “level up [the country] in a Conservative way”.
She is expected to say: “My mission in politics is to give every child, every person, the best opportunity to succeed, and for their success in life to depend solely on their hard work and talents, not their background or where they are from.” .
“I am ready to be prime minister on day one. I can lead, make tough decisions and rise to the moment.”
The leadership contest was triggered after Boris Johnson announced his departure from Downing Street last week.
It came after a flood of resignations by ministers over his handling of the disgraced MP Chris Pincher and whether he lied about what he knew of allegations against the former deputy chief whip.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said that although he was not leaving at the time of his choosing, he would do so with his “head held high”.
He will remain as a caretaker prime minister in Number 10 until the new leader of the Conservatives is announced.
Labor want him gone sooner, attempting to hold a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson and his government.
Downing Street answered by tabling its own motion in itselfallowing them to control the wording and giving critics of the prime minister a way to support it.
Sky News is hosting a live TV debate with the contenders vying to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and therefore prime minister, and you could be in the virtual audience.
The debate will take place on Monday 18 July hosted by Sky News presenter Kay Burley.
If you would like to be a member of the virtual audience and be in with a chance of asking a question, please email NewsDebates@sky.uk.