The UK’s former finance minister held onto his lead to become Britain’s next prime minister on Monday as another hopeful was knocked out of the race
Rishi Sunak topped the third vote by MPs to determine who should be the next Tory leader, with backbencher Tom Tugendhat eliminated as he had the least number of votes.
Four candidates now remain in the increasingly tense contest to replace Boris Johnson. They will go to another round of voting on Tuesday.
Sunak got 115 votes in the third ballot of Conservative MPs on Monday, ahead of former defence minister Penny Mordaunt on 82 and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on 71.
Ex-Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch was fourth.
Tom Tugendhat, a former soldier and Johnson critic who has never had a role in government, was eliminated from the leadership contest on Monday, after securing the fewest votes with 31.
His supporters will have to allocate their support to the other candidate in the next round of voting.
The governing Conservative Party’s 358 lawmakers will cut the candidates down to the final two this week, eliminating those with the fewest votes each time.
The results of the next ballot are due at 1400 GMT on Tuesday.
A new prime minister will then be announced on 5 September, after the Conservative Party’s 200,000 members cast postal ballots over the summer.
“I have been overwhelmed by the response we have received across the country,” said Tugendhat in a statement. “People are ready for a clean start and our party must deliver on it and put trust back into politics.”
A prominent Sunak supporter said: “That’s a cracking result – Rishi gaining most [votes], while a Badenoch campaign source said: “Kemi is pleased to have taken it to the next vote.”
“She has momentum over both Mordaunt and Truss. It’s all to play for and Kemi is in it to win,” they added.
Since Johnson promised to resign earlier this month after being plagued by scandals, the race to replace him has taken an ugly turn with several contenders lashing out at the frontrunner Sunak.
He has faced criticism on several things, such as his record in government to the wealth of his wife, by those vying to make it to a run-off between the final two candidates.
His most likely challengers are foreign secretary Truss and Mordaunt, currently a junior trade minister.
They clashed on British TV on Sunday over their economic policies, with Truss making personal attacks on what she called Sunak’s privileged background.
The race has become focused on pledges, or non-pledges, to cut taxes, at a time when Britain’s economy is beset with spiralling inflation, high debt and low growth that have left people with the tightest squeeze on their finances in decades.
A Sky News debate scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled after Mr Sunak and Ms Truss declined to take part, and amid concern among senior Tories that angry arguments in public could damage the party.