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Malthouse and Cleverly quit Tory leadership race

The field has thinned to 11 after housing minister Kit Malthouse followed James Cleverly in pulling out of the race.

Kit Malthouse (Isabel Infantes/PA)
Kit Malthouse (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Housing minister Kit Malthouse has withdrawn from the Tory leadership race as the party changed its rules to make it harder for outsiders to stand.

The field of candidates is now down to 11 after James Cleverly also pulled out of the contest.

Mr Malthouse said he was a “realist” and acknowledged there was an “appetite for this contest to be over quickly”.

The executive of the backbench 1922 Committee and the party board met to decide the rules for the contest which will see the new leader finally elected in the week beginning July 22.

In order to deal with the crowded field, candidates now need to secure support from eight MPs rather than the two required under the system used in 2016.

To stay in the contest, candidates will then need to win at least 16 votes in the first ballot and 32 in the second round in order to speed up the process of whittling them down to a final two.

If the ballot thresholds are met by all candidates, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be eliminated.

The first ballot of MPs will take place on June 13, with further votes scheduled on June 18, 19 and 20.

The winner – and the next prime minister – will be decided by Tory members from the two candidates remaining at the end of the process.

The process will begin with a call for candidates at 5pm on Friday, after Theresa May formally quits as Tory leader.

Nominations will be received from 10am on Monday, June 10 and will close at 5pm that day.

Once the parliamentary votes have been completed, the first membership hustings is planned for June 22, with the whole process due to end in the week beginning July 22.

The last few days have demonstrated that there is an appetite for this contest to be over quickly and for the nation to have a new leader in place as soon as possible Kit Malthouse

Announcing his decision to withdraw, Mr Malthouse said: “The last few days have demonstrated that there is an appetite for this contest to be over quickly and for the nation to have a new leader in place as soon as possible.

“As such, it seems right to me that I withdraw my candidature and wish those remaining the very best, always recognising there are going to be very challenging times ahead.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Brexit minister Mr Cleverly said he had withdrawn because his fellow MPs were not comfortable with the idea of picking a “relatively new” colleague.

The MP for Braintree, first elected in 2015, concluded he was “highly unlikely” to reach the final two candidates chosen by MPs.

Mr Cleverly said: “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 a relatively new MP.

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James Cleverly (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“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 it is highly unlikely that I would progress to be one of the final two candidates.”

In other developments:

– Boris Johnson’s former campaign manager Ben Wallace “hasn’t decided yet” whether to back him again in his latest party leadership bid

– Brexiteer Liam Fox announced he is backing Jeremy Hunt, who recently described a no-deal Brexit as “political suicide”

– Mr Johnson, Sajid Javid and Andrea Leadsom will take part in a private hustings for Tory MPs in the centre-right One Nation group

Security minister Mr Wallace ran Mr Johnson’s leadership campaign in 2016 and threatened to go “Game Of Thrones” on Mr Gove after he scuppered Mr Johnson’s chances, opening the door for Mrs May.

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Ben Wallace (John Stillwell/PA)

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he had decided whether to back Mr Johnson, Mr Wallace said: “I haven’t made a decision yet.

“The one thing I have learned from being inside a campaign is we’ve got another 10 days – your listeners will be dead bored.

“What we do need to do is make sure this race is about getting the right person to lead the country, but I’m not going to bang on about it.”

International Trade Secretary Dr Fox announced he is backing Mr Hunt because he wants to steer away from a no-deal Brexit.

He said: “In this contest I’ll be backing my friend Jeremy Hunt, who is an impressive Foreign Secretary, who is an entrepreneur by background where deal-making is part of his DNA.

“I think he understands we have to send a message to Europe that we will leave if we cannot get an appropriate deal but we will try to get a deal.”

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