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By Ben Guerin
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Jeremy Hunt And Nadhim Zahawi Knocked Out Of Race To Be Next PM

6 min read

Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt are leading in the race to become the next Prime Minister after the first round of voting, while Jeremy Hunt and Nadhim Zahawi have been eliminated.

Announcing the results on Wednesday evening, 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady revealed that Rishi Sunak had received 88 votes, while Penny Mordaunt had come in second with 67 votes.

Liz Truss gained 50 backers, while Kemi Badenoch got 40, Tom Tugendhat got 37, and Suella Braverman got 32.

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and former Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt have been knocked out of the race, getting 25 and 18 votes respectively. 

Those running needed to get the backing of at least 30 MPs – plus their own vote – to stay in the running.

In a statement on Twitter following the result, Hunt thanked his "incredible team of loyal and talented supporters who put their faith in me".

"It’s become obvious to me you only get one big shot at this, and I had mine in 2019," he wrote.

"Nevertheless, it’s clear that our party has an exciting future, with the amazing array of talent on offer in this contest, and I feel confident that we are on track to win back trust."

He also referenced reports that he had been "lent" votes by rival campaigns, adding: "A gentle word of advice to the remaining candidates: smears [and] attacks may bring short-term tactical gain but always backfire long term.

"The nation is watching [and] they’ve had enough of our drama; be the broad church & unbeatable, election winning machine that our country deserves."

As Tory MPs began queuing up along Committee Corridor to cast their vote, Sunak had 54 public backers, while Mordaunt had 36. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was not far behind with 28, followed by Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch on 24 each. 

Falling behind were Nadhim Zahawi, Jeremy Hunt and Suella Braverman, who each went into the vote with 21 declared supporters.

Many campaign teams were openly confident that they had enough votes as the ballot began, both publicly declared and private, to get them over the line.

Former minister Stephen Hammond, who is among Tugendhat’s public backers, told PoliticsHome he was "comfortable and confident that Tom would be in the next round, he'll get to the next round".

Another Tory MP backing Tugendhat agreed that his supporters were “very confident” that the foreign affairs select committee chairman would surpass the 31-vote threshold, and that he could mop up further votes once other candidates are eliminated.

“We know we’ve got second preferences from all the other camps to come to us, depending on who gets knocked out. We’ve got pledged second preferences, and that’s obviously what this contest is about,” they said.

But they said they had “lost some votes” they had hoped to claim to rival candidates such as frontrunner Sunak.

They admitted that Tugendhat had a “problem with name recognition” among the wider public, but added that “the more people see of Tom – members and the country – the more they like”.

The backbench MP was also dismissive of some of the trailing candidate’s prospects, claiming that those who just scraped 31 votes this evening should “consider their position”.

Backers of Braverman were similarly pushing the idea that their candidate would do very well if and when they got through to later rounds of the contest.

Steve Baker, who is running Braverman’s campaign, said he believed “she can go the distance” as the serving Attorney General was offering something “fresh, and new, and exciting, and authentic”.

"She is distinctively conservative and authentically so. The great thing about Suella is that she can say what she truly believes all the time and know that she means it,” he said.

"Every time MPs meet Suella in hustings, whenever they meet her individually, their admiration for her grows. If we can get to the hustings amongst the parliamentary party, if we get to the public debates I think she could do really well.”

Amid accusations of a split among Brexiteers on who they are backing in the Tory leadership contest, Baker claimed: “As far as I can see every Eurosceptic’s heart is with Suella.”

But minutes earlier Mark Francois, chair of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit MPs heavyweight, had revealed he had cast his ballot for Liz Truss.

One of the tellers for Braverman’s campaign said they were confident they will hit the 30-vote mark to stay in the contest, despite fears they may be squeezed out by other right-wing candidates.

A snap poll by YouGov on Wednesday found that trade minister Penny Mordaunt was currently the party’s favourite candidate, gaining the backing of 27 per cent of the 879 party members surveyed.

She had almost twice the support of Kemi Badenoch, who came in second with 15 per cent, followed by Sunak and Truss on 13 per cent. Tugendhat had the support of 8 per cent, Braverman of 5 per cent and Hunt was backed by 4 per cent.

The newly-appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi came in last, with support from just 1 per cent of those surveyed. 

Despite also falling behind in terms of public backers, some of Zahawi’s supporters seemed confident he would make it to the next round as voting began.

Asked if he would hit the threshold, one MP said: “The last chat we had, we were good, we’re expecting to be on 30.”

Former Cabinet minister and health select committee chair Jeremy Hunt told reporters he was in “good form thank you" as he left the voting room on Wednesday afternoon.

On Tuesday, culture secretary Nadine Dorries accused Sunak’s team of engaging in “dark arts” following reports that the ex-chancellor’s backers were lending votes to Hunt in order to get him onto the ballot. 

A senior source in a rival leadership team told PoliticsHome they believed that Gavin Williamson, who is whipping votes for team Sunak, had also asked Sunak-backing Conservative MPs to lend votes to Braverman.

This, they said, would ensure that the staunchly pro-Brexit right of the Conservative party would be split across more candidates, making Sunak's path to the final two easier.

A source close to Sunak's campaign, however, called the allegations "complete nonsense".

Michael Fabricant, a supporter of Penny Mordaunt for leader, told reporters after he finished voting that there are “dirty shenanigans afoot”, alluding to the rumours about nominations being lent by one team to another.

The voting lasted for two hours, and according to the tellers just one Tory MP did not vote in the first ballot – the new Chairman of the Conservative Party, Andrew Stephenson.

The former Cabinet minister Gavin Williamson, who is involved in the Sunak campaign, appeared to have been the last to cast their ballot with just two minutes to spare.

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