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Mordaunt out of Tory leadership race as Sunak and Truss to battle it out for prime minister

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The UK’s next prime minister will be either Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, after Penny Mordaunt was eliminated from the battle for the Conservative leadership in the final round of voting by the party’s MPs.

After leading the race to succeed from the start, Mr Sunak held onto his first place with 137 MPs’ votes.

But Ms Mordaunt, who was second in the four previous rounds of voting, was dramatically overtaken at the last minute by Ms Truss, who took 113 votes to the trade minister’s 105.

The foreign secretary is believed to have benefited from switching by former supporters of Kemi Badenoch after she was knocked out on Tuesday.

A Sunak supporter described the outcome as “a really strong result with a clear mandate from MPs” for the former chancellor, who put on 19 votes to reach 38 per cent of the parliamentary party.

“He will now work night and day to get the mandate from the wider Conservative party family to beat Labour, protect the Union and seize the opportunities of Brexit,” said the source. “The choice for members is very simple: who is the best person to beat Labour at the next election? The evidence shows that’s Rishi.”

Ms Truss said: Truss: “As prime minister, I would hit the ground running from day one, unite the party and govern in line with Conservative values. I am excited to now take to the country to make the case to the Conservative Party about my bold new economic plan that will cut taxes, grow our economy and unleash the potential of everyone in our United Kingdom.”

A social media gaffe saw her statement initially tweeted as “I would hit the ground from day one”.

Sunak and Truss will be the names on ballot papers being sent out from 1 August to approximately 160,000 Tory members, who will choose their new leader – and the country’s prime minister – in a secret ballot, with the result to be announced on 5 September.

Ms Truss goes into the crucial tournament as firm bookies’ favourite, after repeated surveys of Conservative activists gave her a comfortable lead over the former chancellor in a head-to-head contest.

Ms Mordaunt’s elimination sets the scene for a bloody summer of blue-on-blue attacks between the two former cabinet colleagues, which senior Tories fear could damage the party’s brand.

The pair have clashed viciously in TV debates, with Ms Truss accusing the former chancellor of putting the UK on the path to recession and him asking whether she was more embarrassed to be a former Remainer or a former Liberal Democrat.

Their next encounter will be an hour-long BBC debate on Monday, followed by a regional hustings in the North of England next Thursday.

Conservatives who have been a member of the party since at least 3 June can cast their votes online as soon as they are received at the start of next month, making the coming week crucial in the fight to be PM.

But in a quirk of the rules, members who change their minds before the deadline of 3 September can amend their vote by casting another ballot – with only the latest one counting.

Ms Mordaunt’s elimination came as a bitter blow to supporters, who had presented her as a “fresh face” candidate able to dispel voter distrust of the Conservatives built up during Mr Johnson’s three years in power.

The leadership contest will now take place between two senior members of Johnson’s cabinet, with the Tory right rallying around Ms Truss’s banner while centrists back Sunak and both candidates trying to shake off association with the departing PM.

The battle will expose a clear rift within the Tory party between Ms Truss’s right-wing agenda of immediate tax cuts and confrontation with Brussels over the post-Brexit settlement and Mr Sunak’s more cautious approach focusing on sound money and avoiding “fairytale” tax giveaways.

As she congratulated her two rivals on their success, Ms Mordaunt made clear that she hopes for a senior role in the adminstration of whichever of them wins the premiership, saying: “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”.

She added: “I pay tribute to anyone who puts themselves forward for such a demanding role. 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.”

Former Johnson aide Dominic Cummings – who has previously admitted helping to ensure the election of a man he thought was unfit to be PM – mocked members of the eurosceptice European Research Group for backing Ms Truss, who he described as “a truly useless Remainer who did nothing in government except gabble”.

Labour’s shadow cabinet minister Conor McGinn said: “The choice to be the next Tory leader is down to the two continuity candidates. Both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are stooges of the Johnson administration whose fingerprints are all over the state the country finds itself in today.

“Whichever one of these continuity candidates wins, one thing is clear: the more time we give the Tories, the more damage they will do.”

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey demanded an early general election to allow all voters a chance to pass their verdicts on the eventual winner of the Tory contest.

“Everyone knows Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are two sides of the same coin,” said Sir Ed. “Both propped up Boris Johnson whilst he lied to the British people and failed to deal with the healthcare crisis and cost-of-living emergency.

“Whatever happens, we need a general election as soon as a new Conservative leader is in place. That way the British people can give their verdict on the Conservatives and kick them out of power for good.”

One Sunak supporter said he is confident the Conservative membership will recognise that the former chancellor is the candidate who appeals to both Leavers and Remainers, and to people living in the south and north.

“He is the candidate best placed to do that,” the MP said. “I’m very confident that the Conservative party will decide that defeating inflation, fiscal responsibility and sound money have to come before tax cuts. You can’t have tax cuts without defeating inflation.”

Stoke MP Jonathan Gullis, who came out for Ms Truss earlier on Wednesday, said he did so because “despite being a Remainer, she talks toughest on Brexit”.

He said voters “want someone who is going to stand up for the country and make the most of Brexit opportunities”, adding: “I have not heard enough of that from Rishi.”

Mr Gullis urged the rivals to “avoid blue-on-blue”, adding: “The two candidates have very different policies and that is exciting for the country and for the Conservative party.”

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