James Cleverly drops out of Tory leadership race after admitting he's 'highly unlikely' to make final cut
James Cleverly has pulled out of the race to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader and Prime Minister.
The party's ex-deputy chairman, who only threw his hat into the ring last week, admitted it was "highly unlikely" he would win the backing of enough MPs to make it into the running for the top job.
His withdrawal - the first of the race - came just hours before Conservative chiefs meet to consider plans to slash the number of leadership candidates.
It leaves 12 contenders standing in the battle to succeed Mrs May.
In a statement the Braintree MP said: "Last week I announced that I intended to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister.
"I felt that we needed to deliver Brexit and then quickly move the conversation on to other important issues that face the country. I had hoped that the Conservative parliamentary party would support me to be the face and voice of that conversation.
"To do this I asked them to make a leap of faith, skip a generation and vote for relatively new MP. It is clear that despite much support, particularly from our party's grassroots, MPs weren't comfortable with such a move and it has become clear that is highly unlikely that I would progress to the final two candidates."
Twelve other MPs have already declared they are running to be the new Conservative leader, with more expected to join the contest before nominations close on 10 June.
Members of the powerful executive of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers will meet on Tuesday to debate how the leadership race should be conducted.
That could lead to a new rule insisting that each candidate must have at least 10 MPs supporting them before they can take part.
Mr Cleverly, who had the public backing of just three MPs, told BBC News that he would not yet commit to backing a particular candidate for the top job.
“I’m going to give it some thought, give it some time and when I do make a decision I want to make sure I’ve really taken in all the positions people have put forward, so I’m not going to make any decisions or any announcements yet,” he said.
Julian Knight, one of those who had thrown his weight behind Mr Cleverly, reacted to the "sad" news on Twitter.
The Conservative MP wrote: "It is sad that @JamesCleverly has decided to withdraw from leadership race but it is the mark of the man that he has recognised facts, made a tough decision and will be a hundred percent behind whomever the new PM is..if we had more James' in politics we'd be very lucky!"
Announcing his candidacy last week, Mr Cleverly had said the Conservatives needed to "look new and sound different" to survive.
And he vowed not to "duck" a no-deal Brexit if necessary.