FIVE would-be PMs could be knocked out of Tory contest TODAY

Now the gloves are OFF: Tory leadership race turns nasty as ‘kingmaker’ Rudd backs Hunt and attacks ‘blindly optimistic’ Boris while a former minister calls for ‘cocaine hypocrite’ Gove to go as five hopefuls face the chop TODAY

  • The Tory leadership battle formally kicks off today with nominations opening 
  • Five of the 11 candidates are struggling to get support from eight MPs needed
  • Amber Rudd has endorsed Jeremy Hunt instead of front runner Boris Johnson
  • Michael Gove is fighting to stay in the contest after admitting to cocaine use 

The gloves came off in the Tory leadership battle today as rivals took aim at ‘unrealistic’ Boris Johnson – while Michael Gove faced calls to stand aside over his cocaine admission.

Front runner Mr Johnson suffered a blow with Cabinet minister Amber Rudd opting to back Jeremy Hunt – jibing that being ‘sunny and optimistic’ could not make up for having no ‘plan’ for Brexit. 

Meanwhile, the former foreign secretary’s call for £10billion of tax cuts for higher earners was dismissed as ‘unrealistic’.

In an extraordinary piece of blue-on-blue warfare, Tory ex-chair Baroness Warsi also waded into the row over Mr Gove having taken cocaine in the past – branding him a hypocrite.

A slew of Tories face having their dreams of becoming PM dashed today as the leadership battle gets real.

Nominations officially open this morning, with each candidate needing pledges of support from at least eight colleagues. 

But five of the 11 candidates seem to be struggling to reach the threshold. Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, former universities minister Sam Gyimah, ex-chief whip Mark Harper, Aid Secretary Rory Stewart and former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey could all find themselves binned early on. 


Cabinet minister Amber Rudd today opted to back Jeremy Hunt for the Tory leadership

Ms Rudd jibed that Mr Johnson (pictured in London today) being ‘sunny and optimistic’ could not make up for having no realistic ‘plan’ for Brexit

Environment Secretary Michael Gove (pictured on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday)  is fighting to keep his campaign together after admitting to taking cocaine

There are 11 Tory MPs currently vying for the party leadership and the keys to Number 10

Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Theresa May and the main focus at Westminster is on who will challenge him when MPs have whittled the field down to the final two next week. Tory members will then have the final say, with the new PM expected to take over at the end of next month.

What is happening in the Tory leadership battle today? 

After Theresa May formally tendered her resignation as Tory leader on Friday, nominations are opening at 10am for her replacement.

Anyone hoping to stand in the contest needs support from at least eight fellow MPs by the time nominations close at 5pm.

Eleven hopefuls have declared they want to be in the vote – but half of them could fail to meet the threshold, which was raised by Conservative chiefs amid concerns the field was getting too large.

Once the candidates have been finalised, MPs will start whittling them down in a series of votes.

Thursday will be another critical day, as the first ballot takes place.

Anyone with fewer than 16 votes will be automatically eliminated, and at least one will be ejected.  

Further rounds of voting will take place until there are just two candidates left by the end of this month.

They will then go to a run-off ballot of the 160,000 Tory members, with the winner due to be declared in the week of July 22. 

Mr Hunt and Mr Gove, the MPs seen as his most likely competitors, both launch their campaigns today with Mr Johnson fixed in their sights.

Mr Gove will attempt to present himself as a ‘serious’ alternative to the contest’s frontrunner Boris Johnson when he launches his campaign this afternoon, insisting he is ‘undaunted’ by criticism.

He will attempt to persuade Tory MPs that he can be the ‘serious leader’ the country needs.

The Cabinet minister, who endured a bruising interview on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show where he was repeatedly questioned about his cocaine use 20 years ago, will attempt to portray his willingness to face scrutiny as a strength.

Critics of Mr Johnson have highlighted his lack of media appearances since Mrs May announced her decision to quit.

At his launch event, Mr Gove will say: ‘I have led from the front undaunted by criticism and resolute in the need to solve complex issues because that is what our country needs.’

In a message to Tory MPs, he will add: ‘We need a leader who is ready to lead from day one.

‘A leader ready to be prime minister from day one.

‘A leader ready to face the scrutiny of the studio lights.’

Mr Gove will say he can both deliver Brexit and ‘stop Jeremy Corbyn ever getting the keys to Downing Street’.

But he faced calls to pull out of the contest for No10 by former Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi.

Lady Warsi said it was ‘completely inappropriate’ for him to remain in the contest to be the next prime minister.

Former foreign secretary Mr Johnson is the bookmakers’ favourite to replace Theresa May (pictured at church in her Maidenhead constituency yesterday)

She told Channel 4 News: ‘This case isn’t just about drug taking, it is about trust, it is about hypocrisy of the highest order and it cannot be that we have somebody who is now mired in this issue of trust and hypocrisy feel that it is still appropriate for him to stand as leader of the Conservative Party and a prime minister of this country.’

Mr Gove’s campaign suffered a further setback when Ms Rudd, an influential voice on the Remain-supporting wing of the party and leader of the centrist One Nation group, came out in support of Mr Hunt.

Boris Johnson pledges £10billion tax cut for higher earners 

Boris Johnson is drawing up plans to raise the 40p income tax threshold to £80,000 at a cost of almost £10 billion.

The higher rate of income tax currently applies on earnings over £50,000 in England and the move could benefit more than three million people.

Mr Johnson claims that someone earning around £60,000-a-year would see their personal tax bill fall by an estimated £1,000.

The former foreign secretary believes the cost of the policy could be met through some of the cash set aside for No Deal Brexit planning and increasing national insurance payments made by workers.

In his regular Daily Telegraph column, published this morning, he said: ‘We should be cutting corporation tax and other business taxes.

‘We should be raising thresholds of income tax – so that we help the huge numbers that have been captured in the higher rate by fiscal drag.’

She said: ‘These are serious times and we need a respected statesman who Brussels will listen to, not more bluster.’

Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt will use his launch event to stress his credentials as a statesman who can handle the complexities of Brexit.

‘We are facing a constitutional crisis. Our new prime minister will preside over a hung Parliament,’ Mr Hunt will say.

‘This extremely serious moment calls for an experienced, serious leader. We need the art of tough negotiation, not the art of empty rhetoric.’

The first stage of the leadership contest takes place on Monday with candidates required to gather support from eight fellow Tory MPs by 5pm to enter the race.

As well as Mr Gove and Mr Hunt, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab are holding events to launch their campaigns.

Mr Hancock will say he offers the ‘fresh start’ the country needs and will set out his vision to make the next decade ‘the soaring ’20s’ for the post-Brexit UK.

Mr Raab will unveil a package of proposals to develop clean energy and protect the environment – including redirecting £500 million a year from the aid budget to create an international wildlife fund to save endangered species and habitats.

‘We’ve got to look to the future,’ he will say. ‘We’ve got to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.’

Meanwhile Mr Johnson used his Daily Telegraph column to signal a plan to slash the higher rate of income tax for people earning more than £50,000.

‘We should be raising thresholds of income tax – so that we help the huge numbers that have been captured in the higher rate by fiscal drag,’ he said.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid picked up further support for his campaign, with ministers Caroline Nokes and Victoria Atkins backing him.

 

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