Tory MPs have cast their final votes in a bitter leadership contest that has seen Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt battle it out to face Rishi Sunak in a run-off to be the next prime minister.
All that is left of the Westminster stage of the race to replace Boris Johnson is for Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, to read out the results before the final two face their next electorate: the Tory membership.
Mr Sunak, the former chancellor, appears certain to achieve the votes required from colleagues in the Commons to guarantee his name will be on the ballot that goes to party members over the summer.
But Foreign Secretary Ms Truss and trade minister Ms Mordaunt were scrambling to secure votes in the contest for the second spot on the ballot on another significant day in Westminster.
Ahead of the results being announced at 4pm, Mr Johnson rounded off his final Prime Minister’s Questions by hailing the successes of his time in office.
In other developments:
– Cabinet Secretary Simon Case launched a leak investigation into allegations of information intended to damage Ms Mordaunt’s campaign coming from within the Civil Service.
– Mordaunt-backer Tobias Ellwood temporarily regained the Tory whip so he can vote in the final ballot after it was stripped over his failure to back the Government in a confidence motion.
– Mr Sunak set out plans for the UK to produce all the energy it uses by 2045 at the latest, while scrapping proposals to ease the ban on new onshore wind farms in England.
– Ms Mordaunt pledged to deliver more NHS dentists to tackle the backlog, and a major overhaul of the credit rating system to help renters onto the property market.
– Ms Truss insisted that she was the “only person who can deliver the change” the UK needs which is in “line with true Conservative principles”.
In the Commons, Sir Keir Starmer utilised the leadership candidates’ criticism of their own Government during Mr Johnson’s valedictory PMQs.
Though Mr Johnson sought to shrug off those attacks, he did pause to offer some advice to his eventual successor: “Number one, stay close to the Americans, stick up for the Ukrainians, stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere.
“Focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror.”
He signed off by deploying Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 2 catchphrase, telling MPs: “Hasta la vista, baby.”
The comment raised suspicions that Mr Johnson may be plotting a comeback, with the other well-known quote from the movie being: “I’ll be back.”
His press secretary insisted it was just his “way of saying farewell to his colleagues” and described questions about him heading to the Lords as being “purely hypothetical”.
From early Wednesday, Ms Mordaunt was calling wavering MPs to drum up support.
She has consistently come second to Mr Sunak in the rounds of voting so far, but Ms Truss came close as she picked up the most new backers on Tuesday.
The Foreign Secretary was on 86, and Ms Mordaunt on 92, while Mr Sunak was just shy of the number effectively guaranteeing him entry to the final phase on 118.
Kemi Badenoch was eliminated from the race and the 59 votes she had are now up for grabs.
Ms Truss, who has won the most support from the Tory right among the remaining candidates, is hopeful of being best placed to prosper from Ms Badenoch’s exit so she can leapfrog Ms Mordaunt onto the final ballot.
But a source in the Mordaunt campaign said she was appealing to supporters of Ms Badenoch and the previously-eliminated Tom Tugendhat who liked the idea of clean break from the Johnson era.
Former Cabinet minister Damian Green, who had backed Mr Tugendhat, said he was supporting Ms Mordaunt.
Although Ms Mordaunt has been a minister, she was not in Mr Johnson’s Cabinet, unlike Mr Sunak, who quit as chancellor earlier in July, and Ms Truss, who remains the Foreign Secretary.
“As the only one not in Johnson’s Cabinet, Penny is the sole MP left in the race who offers a genuine fresh start,” he said.
Ms Mordaunt was highlighting her plan to address the cost-of-living crisis as inflation hit a fresh 40-year high, with Office for National Statistics figures showing the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) running at 9.4% in June.
“We need to act now, and not sit on our hands by proclaiming we have done enough, during the height of this crisis, and come this autumn, to help people pay their bills,” she said.
Ms Mordaunt also promised a plan for a major overhaul of the credit rating system to help renters get a mortgage and a place on the housing ladder.
The surge in support for Ms Truss has raised eyebrows in the Mordaunt camp because Mr Tugendhat’s votes had been expected to be split between the trade minister and Mr Sunak.
There have been widespread allegations of dirty tricks orchestrated by allies of Mr Sunak, with claims the former chancellor’s supporters had been encouraged to vote tactically to ensure a run-off with Ms Truss rather than Ms Mordaunt.
Former Cabinet minister David Davis, who backs Ms Mordaunt, said “he wants to fight Liz, because she’s the person who will lose the debate with him”, adding that it was the “dirtiest campaign I’ve ever seen”.