Matt Hancock pulls out of race to be Tory leader with 'come and get me' plea to rivals
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has become the latest Conservative leadership hopeful to quit the race.
The Cabinet minister announced he was pulling out of the campaign to succeed Theresa May after conceding he "can’t win".
The move comes just a day after Mr Hancock won the support of 20 Conservative MPs in the first leadership ballot, and will trigger a race among rival candidates to secure the backing of those MPs who supported his bid for the top job.
In a video statement, Mr Hancock said: "I'm incredibly grateful for all the support that I've received throughout this campaign, and I'm really proud that we've set the agenda and fighting for values of free enterprise and a free society and trying to make sure that te Conservative Party is focused on delivering for people and winning the centre ground of politics.
"I've put myself forward as the candidate of the future but it's increasingly clear that the party understandably is looking for a candidate for the unique circumstances that exist now.
"So I've decided to withdraw from this race and find other ways to advance the values that I hold so strongly: the need for the Conservative Party to be pro-business, pro-enterprise, open, outward looking, gregarious and engaged, supporting every individual to make the best that they can in life."
Mr Hancock's withdrawal from the race leaves six candidates now vying to become leader, with Boris Johnson the clear frontrunner after netting the support of 114 MPs in Thursday's ballot.
According to The Times, Mr Hancock met with Sajid Javid - who came fifth with 23 votes - on Thursday night, sparking rumours he could urge his backers to support the Home Secretary.
But the talks broke up without any agreement, and Mr Hancock said in his video: "I'll be talking to all the other candidates and see how best we can promote those values in the days to come, in this contest and then through government in the months and years ahead."
"I have decided to withdraw from the race and work out what is the best way to advance the values that I care deeply about."
He is thought to be more likely to support Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove - who came second and third respectively, but well behind Boris Johnson - in the remainder of the contest.
Asked by the Evening Standard whether he could support Mr Johnson's candidacy, the Health Secretary meanwhile said: “I’m not going to rule anything in or out at this stage.”
Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom were eliminated from the leadership race on Thursday after failing to receive a minimum of 17 votes from their fellow Tory MPs.
The next ballot takes place on Tuesday, when candidates must get a minimum of 33 votes if they are to stay in the contest.