Rishi Sunak & Penny Mordaunt storm Tory PM leadership battle – but Hunt and Zahawi crash out

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THE race to be Britain’s next PM stepped up a gear tonight as Rishi Sunak and Mordaunt stormed into the lead – but Jeremy Hunt and Nadim Zahawi dramatically crashed out.

In the opening ballot of the Tory leadership contest Rishi Sunak cruised into first place after hoovering up 88 votes.

Grassroots darling candidate Penny Mordant ran in at second with 67, with Liz Truss hot on her heels at 50.

Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman and Tom Tugendhat also successfully made it on to tomorrow’s second Tory MP vote.

But Mr Hunt and Mr Zahawi both failed to make the cut and crashed out after only receiving 18 and 25 votes respectively.

Candidates had to get at least 30 supporters to make it through to tomorrow’s round of voting.

In more key developments:

  • Ms Mordaunt launched her campaign with a pledge to slim down Whitehall
  • She later topped a poll of who ordinary Tory members want to be PM
  • Mr Tugendhat took a swipe at rivals scrimping on defence spending pledges
  • Boris Johnson said he’d be leaving office with his “head held high”

In a humiliating flop, former heath secretary Mr Hunt actually lost supporters after bagging just 18 votes despite getting at least 20 yesterday to get onto the ballot.

After being knocked out he suggested he had fallen foul to a dirty tricks campaign.

He said: “A gentle word of advice to the remaining candidates: smears & attacks may bring short term tactical gain but always backfire long term.”

Mr Zahawi said he now intended to focus on his work as Chancellor and suggested he would not be backing another candidate.

From tomorrow almost daily ballots will take place, with the candidates receiving the least number of votes knocked out.

The final two contenders will be revealed by next Wednesday at the latest.

Despite being the early favourite Mr Sunak will be worried at the amount of support rallying around Ms Mordaunt.

A snap survey showed earlier that she is the number one pick for leader among over a quarter (27 per cent) of Tory members.

The bombshell YouGov poll shows that Ms Mordaunt has a commanding lead against every single competitor in the race were they to make the top two with her.

According to the poll the Trade Minister would even beat current hot favourite Mr Sunak 39 points.

Tax has become the central battleground in the contest, with most candidates pledging to let Brits keep more of their cash.

Former Chancellor Mr Sunak has peeled off from the pack by only promising tax cuts once inflation is reined in.

His stall as the candidate for economic responsibility sets him apart from rivals offering up huge tax cuts.

Ms Truss has vowed to cut taxes on day one if elected PM.

Grassroots darling Ms Mordaunt is promising eye-catching cuts to VAT on petrol and diesel to bring down crippling fuel costs.

Rising star Kemi Badenoch is steering clear of entering the tax “bidding war” but has made clear she wants the burden on Brits eased.

Instead she is serving up a platter of red meat policies that are going down a storm with many Tory MPs.

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