Former Tory leadership contender Penny Mordaunt has come out in support of Liz Truss in a major boost to her campaign to become the next prime minister.
Ms Mordaunt dramatically announced her endorsement at the start of a hustings event pitching Truss against rival Rishi Sunak in Exeter.
The declaration of support hits a further nail into the coffin of Mr Sunak’s ailing bid to enter 10 Downing Street. Ms Mordaunt won widespread support within the party with a well-received campaign that saw her finish third in the race to succeed Boris Johnson.
The trade minister told Conservative members at the hustings: “I came third in this contest, and I owe it to all of you to be a signpost, not a weather vane. So I’ve made my choice.”
Insisting that the choice between Mr Sunak and Ms Truss was a “difficult” one to take, Ms Mordaunt said: “This contest is a test – a test that precedes an even greater test.
“So who can lead, who can build that team and deliver for our country? Who has that bold economic plan that our nation needs? Who’s got reach, who can relate to people, who understands that people need help with the cost of living now and who is going to rightly clobber our opponents?
“Who is going to hold seats and win back councils and who most embodies the vision and values the British public had in their heads and in their hearts when they voted in 2016 and 2019?
“At the start of this final phase of the contest, I didn’t know the answer to those questions. But I’ve seen enough to know who I’m going to put my faith in. And that is Liz Truss.”
She hailed the foreign secretary for “her authenticity, her determination, her ambition for this country, her consistency and sense of duty”.
And she added: “Seeing her over the last few weeks has made me want to help her win. To help build the team we need to win the country and to give ourselves, as a party and as a nation, the pride and the confidence we need to reach our full potential – in short, to give us all hope.
“She for me is the hope candidate and that is why I am here tonight, to be straight with all of you and to tell you that my choice in this contest to lead us and our nation is Liz Truss.”
Ms Truss welcomed the endorsement of the former defence secretary, whom she described as “a great person, a great politician and a great patriot”.