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By Bishop of Leeds
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Rishi Sunak Pays Tribute To "Remarkable" Boris Johnson At Leadership Campaign Launch

4 min read

Tory leadership front runner Rishi Sunak launched his campaign on Tuesday with a tribute to the outgoing Boris Johnson, who he insisted had a "good heart" despite his flaws.

Sunak, who has more Conservative MPs behind him than any other candidate, was joined at his Westminster launch by two new major backers: Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, who dropped out of the race to throw his weight behind Sunak.

The former Chancellor sought to pitch himself as the candidate who was being straight with the public about the challenges facing the nation amid criticism from rival leadership teams that he is not matching their pledges to cut tax immediately or quickly.

Sunak said that he would not offer "fairy tales" about the state of the economy, insisting that he would be a tax-cutting Prime Minister once he had "gripped" rising inflation. 

"Once we have gripped inflation, I will get the tax burden down. It is a question of 'when', not 'if'," he told a room of supporters, dotted with senior Conservative MPs including former Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden, ex-Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, and former Chief Whip Sir Gavin Williamson.

In his opening remarks, Sunak described Johnson as "one of the most remarkable people I have ever met" in words that will be interpreted as an olive branch to Conservative MPs who remain steadfastly loyal to the Prime Minister.

"Whatever some commentators may say, he has a good heart," Sunak said.

"Did I disagree with him? Frequently. Is he flawed? Yes, and so are the rest of us.

"What is no longer working? Yes, and that's why I resigned.

"But let me be clear: I will have no part in a rewriting of history that seeks to demonise Boris, exaggerate his faults, or deny his efforts."

Raab, who introduced Sunak on stage, said the former Chancellor was the only candidate to replace Johnson who could beat Keir Starmer's Labour at the next general election.

"To make the very best of this excellent, exciting, inspirational, aspirational agenda that we've got, to unite this brilliant Conservative team, we need a leader who can win," Raab said.

"The reality is, and the polling shows, only Rishi can beat Labour.

"Only Rishi can win with the support of Leave voters and Remain voters.

"Only Rishi can win in the North and in the South, in the blue wall and the red wall."

Hart, who resigned as Welsh Secretary last week, today writes for The House, that Sunak is the best-placed leadership candidate to lead the Tories to victory at the next general election in 2024.

"Who have we in our midst whose offer is as valid in Scotland for a candidate up against the SNP as it might be in Cornwall facing the Lib Dems; or who might resonate in a London suburb as effectively as they might in a tussle with Plaid Cymru in the north Wales countryside," he wrote.

"Again I reach the same verdict.

"If Rishi Sunak is elected we have a very short two years to regain our status and reputation for good solid economic competence. I believe he can do it, and that’s why I’m supporting him to be our next Leader."

A Savanta ComRes poll published on Monday put Labour 15% ahead of the Conservatives.

The contest to replace Johnson will officially get underway today when Conservative MPs cast their votes, after the Tory party's 1922 Committee confirmed the rules on Monday.

Candidates who receive at least 20 nominations this afternoon will make it onto the ballot, while those who don't will be forced to drop out.

Conservative MPs will then vote in rounds, with the first taking place on Wednesday. Candidates will need to secure the backing of at least 30 Tory MPs tomorrow in order to make it into the next round. 

The 1922 Committee wants to have the votes by MPs wrapped before the House of Commons rises for its summer recess next Thursday, so a higher threshold for remaining in the race will also be implemented.

Four candidates had surpassed the 20-MP threshold needed to get onto the ballot at the time of writing. They are Sunak, Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. 

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