TWO HAMPSHIRE MPs are through to the next round of the Tory leadership race.

Attorney General Suella Braverman, MP for Fareham since 2015, is one of six remaining candidates who will be the subject of another vote tomorrow.

Trade minister Penny Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth North since 2010, also survived the first round of the contest.

The former chancellor, Southampton-born Rishi Sunak, topped the ballot after picking up 88 votes. New chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and former cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt failed to achieve the required 30 votes and have been eliminated from the race to succeed Mr Johnson.

Ms Braverman squeaked through with 32 votes - just two more than the minimum needed.

Daily Echo: Attorney General Suella Braverman, MP for Fareham since 2015.Attorney General Suella Braverman, MP for Fareham since 2015.

The first round of voting came after Downing Street was forced to deny running a "stop Sunak" smear campaign as the battle grew increasingly bitter.

The caretaker Prime Minister's press secretary insisted that Mr Johnson is "staying neutral" despite his remaining arch-loyalists throwing their support behind Liz Truss.

Two of them, Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg, announced their backing and stepped up their public criticism of Mr Sunak after leaving Mr Johnson's Cabinet meeting.

Ms Dorries, the Culture Secretary, accused the former chancellor's campaign of deploying "dirty tricks" to benefit his campaign and backed Ms Truss as the Brexiteers' candidate.

Brexit opportunities minister Mr Rees-Mogg accused Mr Sunak of having implemented "economically damaging" policies.

Asked if No 10 is involved in an anti-Sunak operation as the first round of voting loomed, Mr Johnson's press secretary bluntly said: "No."

She declined to say whether Downing Street remains supportive of the former chancellor, whose resignation helped end Mr Johnson's grip on No 10.

The press secretary said she did not know whether Mr Johnson discussed backing Ms Truss with his allies before they made their public declaration in Downing Street.

"He's staying neutral in this contest," the spokeswoman said.

Mr Rees-Mogg argued that the Foreign Secretary is "fiscally on the right side of the argument", unlike Mr Sunak.

Daily Echo: Southampton-born Rishi Sunak.Southampton-born Rishi Sunak.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who abandoned his own leadership bid to back Mr Sunak, denied claims from Ms Dorries that the campaign has engaged in dirty tricks.

"Simply, in this case it just didn't happen," he said.

Meanwhile, Ms Mordaunt officially launched her campaign by telling colleagues she is their "best shot" at winning the next election.

"I'm the candidate that Labour fear the most - and they're right to," she told Conservatives at Westminster's Cinnamon Club.

Seen as one of the frontrunners in the race, Ms Mordaunt declined to describe Mr Johnson as a good Prime Minister, instead thanking him for delivering Brexit.

Ms Mordaunt insisted she is "very different" from Mr Johnson but indicated she would not call an early general election to win her own mandate if she entered No 10.

The naval reservist and former defence secretary pledged to return to traditional Conservative values of "low tax, small state and personal responsibility".

She said she stands by the Conservative manifesto commitment to meet the Nato target for defence spending of 2% of GDP and increase it by 0.5% above inflation every year.

She won the backing of Sir Mike Penning, who resigned as Conservative Party vice-chairman to campaign for Ms Mordaunt.

The next ballot will be held tomorrow, when the candidate who wins the fewest votes will be eliminated. The process will continue until two are left.

The final pair will spend the summer battling it out to win the support of Conservative members, with their choice of the next prime minister being unveiled on September 5.

Mr Johnson will formally tender his resignation to the Queen to make way for his successor the following day, his official spokesman confirmed.


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