Priti Patel Ruled Out Of Tory Leadership Over Fear Of "Fractured" Right-Wing Vote
The Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would not stand to be the next Tory leader and Prime Minister (Alamy)
The Home Secretary Priti Patel has ruled herself out of the race to replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister over fears she “risked splitting the vote on the Tory right”.
Patel was initially expected to join the broad list of candidates vying for the Conservative leadership, and had garnered the public backing of at least a dozen MPs – more than several other candidates who had actually launched campaigns – but had held off officially launching a campaign.
But just hours before the deadline for nominations on Tuesday, she announced she would not be putting her name forward.
There are a number of candidates aiming to win over Tories on the right of the party, to whom Patel most naturally appeals, including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Attorney General Suella Braverman, and the former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch.
The influential backbencher Steve Baker, who is backing Braverman, warned yesterday of a "grave danger of fragmentation” of right-leaning support, leading to all candidates in that wing failing to attract sufficient backers and being knocked out in the first round of voting. New rules announced by the 1922 committee on Monday included a higher threshold to stay in the race than last time a leadership contest took place in 2019.
But a source close to Patel said her decision not to run was not about the numbers, and that she could have easily got the 20 nominations and the 30 required votes to stay beyond the first ballot of MPs.
“I think there was just a big question mark, as the right of the party just splintered off more and more,” they told PoliticsHome.
“Several have gone to Penny [Mordaunt], a few have gone to Truss, to Suella, and I think it was just looking like it would be a very fractured field."
They suggested that Patel felt the "best path to success" was standing with the backing of leading figures on the right, rather than in opposition to them.
“That just wasn't happening, quite evidently," they added. "You can see that publicly, in that people were going off in different directions.”
Patel is believed to have been mulling over the decision on whether to stand since Johnson confirmed he would step down as party leader last Thursday, and attended a hustings event held by the European Research Group of pro-Brexit MPs on Monday.
The Home Secretary is understood to have told Brexiteer MPs she was the best-placed candidate from the right of the party to win the next election, but as Tuesday's deadline for nominations drew closer, Patel ultimately decided not to go for the top job herself.
“I am grateful for the encouragement and support colleagues and Party members have offered me in recent days in suggesting that I enter the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party," she said in a statement.
“I will not be putting my name forward for the ballot of MPs.”
The news was welcomed by a source close to the Braverman campaign, who told PoliticsHome the pair “had a very similar appeal”. They noted that they “were both Spartans”, borrowing the term used by Conservative MPs who refused to back any version of Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
“Both standing would have split the right’s vote,” they added. “Therefore it is better for Suella.”
Patel has not yet announced who she will back, but there is speculation she will lend her support to Truss, her Cabinet colleague. This would be a significant coup for the Foreign Secretary as she tries to overtake Penny Mordaunt to take second place in the number of declared nominees.
Patel said in her statement that she would “always make the case for freedom, enterprise and opportunity and work with colleagues to deliver these values in Government”, and would be listening to the cases being put forward by the remaining candidates.
Earlier today Truss won the backing of staunch Boris Johnson allies Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit Opportunities minister, and Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary.
“Liz Truss is the best candidate, that’s what we’re working for. She’s a proper Eurosecptic, she’ll deliver for the voters. She believes in lower taxation," Rees-Mogg told media in Downing Street after Cabinet this morning.
“She has been my strongest supporter in the cabinet in getting Brexit opportunities. When we discuss taxation, Liz was always opposed to Rishi’s higher taxes. That again is proper Conservatism.”
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