LIAM FOX threw his weight behind Jeremy Hunt in the battle for the Conservative Party leadership yesterday.
The business secretary, who has unsuccessfully bid for the top job himself in previous contests, cited the foreign secretary’s negotiating ability.
‘I’ll be backing my friend Jeremy Hunt, who is an impressive foreign secretary, who is an entrepreneur by background where deal-making is part of his DNA,’ he told the BBC’s Today programme.
‘I think he understands we have to send a message to Europe that we will leave if we cannot get an appropriate deal but we will try to get a deal.’
His support comes in spite of their differing outlooks on Brexit — Mr Fox is an ardent Brexiteer while Mr Hunt says a no-deal Brexit is ‘political suicide’.
Mr Fox’s comments came as Brexit minister James Cleverly (pictured) and housing minister Kit Malthouse both pulled out of the race yesterday and the party’s influential 1922 Committee changed contest rules to whittle down candidate numbers.
Their withdrawals leave 11 runners still in the contest to replace Theresa May, who will quit as Tory leader on Friday. Mr Cleverly said he was pulling out as fellow MPs were not comfortable with the idea of a ‘relatively new’ colleague. The MP for Braintree, first elected in 2015, concluded he was ‘highly unlikely’ to reach the final two candidates shortlisted by MPs for a final vote by Tory members.
Meanwhile Mr Malthouse wrote on Twitter that ‘after 20 years in front line politics’ he had ‘wanted to lead a new generation of Conservatives at a time of profound change in our country’.
But he added ‘that experience has also made me a realist and the last few days have demonstrated that there is an appetite for this contest to be over quickly and for the nation to have a new leader in place as soon as possible’.
The Tory desire for a speedy decision was highlighted by the 1922 Committee’s rule change. After the first ballot of MPs, scheduled for June 13, any candidate receiving 16 votes or fewer will be eliminated. After the second ballot, any candidate receiving 32 votes or fewer will be eliminated.
Balloting will continue until two candidates remain, with the Tory membership then deciding the winner. A new prime minister will be in place by the week starting Monday, July 22.