Liz Truss will go head-to-head with Rishi Sunak in the race to become Britain’s next prime minister after Penny Mordaunt was knocked out of the Conservative leadership contest on Wednesday.
After five rounds of voting among Tory MPs, the foreign secretary and former chancellor will now battle it out over the summer for the support of 150,000 members to succeed Boris Johnson as the party’s next leader.
Sunak, who has come first in every round to date, won the support of 137 MPs, followed by Truss on 113. Mordaunt, the trade minister who was in second place until the final round of voting, was eliminated with 105 votes.
She was overtaken after Truss gained the backing of many supporters of Kemi Badenoch, the former equalities minister who was voted out of the race on Tuesday.
The focus of the leadership contest will move from Westminster to the wider Conservative party. The first televised debate between Sunak and Truss will take place on Monday. Ballot papers will be sent out in early August and the result will be announced on September 5.
According to the bookmakers Ladbrokes, Truss is the favourite to be the next Conservative party leader with odds of 4/7 while Sunak is at 11/8.
Opinion polls suggest that Truss is ahead of Sunak among party members, with many activists disliking Sunak’s record as a tax-raising chancellor and over his perceived disloyalty to Johnson. Sunak’s supporters emphasise his background in the government’s most important economic post and his assured debate performances.
A YouGov poll for the Times found that Sunak would lose convincingly to both his rivals in a members’ ballot, but his backers maintain that his relative popularity with ordinary voters could swing the vote his way.
A close ally of Mordaunt said she was pushed out of the race after a series of attacks on her ability to be prime minister and policy positions. “I fear the only winner from that will be our opponents. Both will be damaged,” the MP said.
On leaving the race, Mordaunt said that her campaign had put forward a “positive vision . . . remembering who we are here to serve.” She added: “Our mission is not only to deliver on what we promised but to win the fight against Labour at the next general election.”
Truss said she would “hit the ground running from day one, unite the party and govern in line with Conservative values.”
She added: “I am excited to now take to the country to make the case to the Conservative party about my bold new economic plan that will cut taxes, grow our economy and unleash the potential of everyone in our United Kingdom.”
Senior Labour figures said both Truss and Sunak would be easy targets if they became prime minister during the cost of living crisis.
“The one candidate we feared was Boris Johnson, and he has gone,” said a member of the shadow cabinet. “He had this bizarre ability to somehow distance himself from day-to-day events, to be above blame somehow, and no one else in his party has that.”