Tory leadership rivals are scrambling to catch former chancellor Rishi Sunak after he won the second round of voting to choose Boris Johnson’s successor.
Five candidates remain after Attorney General Suella Braverman was knocked out in Thursday’s vote.
Mr Sunak won 101 votes. Penny Mordaunt gained ground on him, with 83 votes, and Liz Truss came third with 64.
The candidates will now seek to woo Ms Braverman’s 27 supporters ahead of the next vote on Monday.
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, who came fourth with 49 votes in Thursday’s vote, and foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat fifth on 32 – both say they are determined to stay in the contest.
Tory MPs are aiming to whittle down the field to two by the end of next week, when it will be thrown over to a postal ballot of Tory members to choose the winner, who will become prime minister.
The result will be announced on 5 September, when Boris Johnson will leave office.
Mr Sunak has now topped the first two ballots of MPs, with the contest increasingly looking like a scrap to see who will join him in the final run-off.
His decision to quit as chancellor last week was one of the first in a wave of ministerial resignations that forced Mr Johnson to stand down as Tory leader.
Allies of Mr Johnson have accused Mr Sunak of orchestrating the prime minister’s downfall, and have been fiercely critical of tax hikes he introduced as chancellor.
A member of Mr Sunak’s team said the former chancellor would “keep going with solid messaging on the economic agenda”, claiming other candidates had backed away from their pledges.
Poker faces tested
The poker faces of MPs from various camps were tested as the result was read out.
Mr Sunak’s supporters were careful not to smile too broadly but looked satisfied. “We’re happy with that,” one of the ex-chancellor’s campaign team said.
Ms Truss’s camp weren’t giving much away, looking ahead to the next “critical” round when they’ll hope to hoover up votes from Ms Braverman’s supporters now she’s out.
With that the remaining candidates will be off to prepare for the first TV debate, hit the phones and hone their tactics before another round of votes next week.
In a tweet, Mr Tugendhat said he would stay in the race and would take part in the upcoming TV debates to put his “vision for Britain forward to the public”.
The backbencher, who won five fewer votes in the second round, said his campaign for “a clean start” continued, adding: “We need trust back in our politics.”
Ms Truss’s team said Thursday’s result showed the foreign secretary was “attracting a wide range of supporters from across the Conservative Party”.
A spokesperson for Ms Truss said: “Now is the time for MPs to unite behind the candidate who will cut taxes, deliver the real economic change we need, continue to deliver the benefits of Brexit and ensure Putin loses in Ukraine”.
Launching her campaign earlier, Mr Truss pledged to boost the economy through tax cuts and said she was “ready to be prime minister from day one”.
Earlier, a senior member of the Ms Truss’s campaign urged backers of Ms Badenoch and Ms Braverman to “recognise the reality of the situation” and unite behind the foreign secretary.
But a campaign source for Ms Badenoch said she was “happy” with the result, given “this time last week she hadn’t decided if she was running”.
“It’s now important Suella’s supporters back Kemi,” the source said. “She will shine in the TV debates.”
“Now is the time for change and I am looking forward to continuing to make that case in the TV debates,” Ms Badenoch wrote in a tweet.
Ms Braverman had styled herself as the only “authentic” Brexiteer candidate in contention, pointing to the fact that she resigned as a Brexit minister under former Prime Minister Theresa May over her deal.
The former barrister has served as MP for Fareham in Hampshire since 2015, replacing Geoffrey Cox as attorney general in 2020.