The line-up of candidates to replace Theresa May has been confirmed, with Michael Gove launching a full-frontal assault on his rival Boris Johnson.
The environment secretary, who is battling to get his campaign back on track after admitting he used cocaine in the 1990s, made a point of attacking Mr Johnson numerous times as he formally launched his leadership bid.
The pair will vie to take over from Mrs May in Downing Street alongside eight others: Jeremy Hunt, Matt Hancock, Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom, Rory Stewart, Mark Harper and Esther McVey.
Shortly before the list of candidates was announced, second referendum supporter Sam Gyimah withdrew from the race, saying he had failed to secure enough support.
In recent days, the contest has been dominated by the revelation that Mr Gove used cocaine when he worked as a journalist.
He has admitted he was “fortunate” not to go to prison after admitting taking the drug on “several” occasions.
Mr Gove sought to come out fighting as he made his pitch to be the next PM, declaring he was “in it to win it”.
His speech contained a number of policy pledges, including abolishing business rates for small and medium-sized firms, reforming VAT, introducing an insurance scheme supported by the state to fund social care and cutting taxes for poorer workers.
A busy day in Westminster saw a number of the other candidates also officially launch their campaigns with a series of promises.
:: Jeremy Hunt
The foreign secretary was boosted by the backing of Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt. He said a “serious moment calls for a serious leader” and warned both the UK and the Conservative Party were in “grave peril” due to a failure to deliver Brexit.
:: Dominic Raab
He labelled himself the “Brexiteer you can rely on” and claimed the UK had been “humiliated” in Brexit negotiations, saying he would be willing to leave without a deal if necessary and calling for a “generational change” in leadership.
:: Matt Hancock
The health secretary promised to increase the national living wage to more than £10 an hour and reduce taxes on working people “when we can afford it”.
:: Esther McVey
She pledged to give public sector workers a pay rise and vowed to up police spending and education funding.
Although many of the candidates took a swipe at frontrunner Mr Johnson, it was the old rivalry between the former mayor of London and ex-Cabinet colleague Mr Gove that made headlines.
Slamming Mr Johnson’s pledge to cut income tax for those earning between £50,000 and £80,000, Mr Gove said: “One thing I will never do as prime minister is to use our tax and benefits system to give the already wealthy another tax cut.”
And in a thinly-veiled dig at the former foreign secretary, Mr Gove declared: “These are serious times and we need a serious leader.
“The consequences couldn’t be greater if we get this wrong.”
The most personal broadside came in a question and answer session after his speech.
Mr Gove said he expected to be in the final two alongside Mr Johnson, and said he would tell his rival: “Whatever you do, don’t pull out.
“I know you have before and I know you may not believe in your heart that you can do it, but the Conservative Party membership deserve a choice.”
He later denied he was making a sexual innuendo when talking about Mr Johnson, telling journalists: “Some people have a lot more imagination than I have.”
Mr Johnson quit the race to succeed David Cameron in 2016 when Mr Gove – his fellow referendum campaigner and the man who was running his leadership bid – withdrew his support and launched his own pitch for the top job.
This time round, he is considered the front runner.
And there was a boost for Mr Johnson on Monday evening, when former party leader Iain Duncan Smith endorsed him.
Asked about his admission of previous cocaine use, Mr Gove said at his campaign launch: “I explained… my regret at my past mistakes.
“But, one of the consequences of having had the chance to reflect on my mistakes, is that when I was justice secretary I was determined to ensure that those people who had fallen into the net of the criminal justice system were given all the support, the help and the care they needed in order to achieve redemption and to enjoy a second chance.”
He said Brexit was an “unashamedly personal” matter for him given his role in the referendum campaign – and said he would be prepared to delay Britain’s departure past 31 October if negotiations on a new deal were making progress.
Mr Stewart, meanwhile, has accused his rivals of making a series of “reckless” tax and spending pledges they will be unable to keep.
The international development secretary, who will hold his campaign launch on Tuesday, said the “eye-watering” cost of the promises ran the risk of damaging the party’s reputation for managing the country’s finances.
Pulling out of the race, former universities minister Mr Gyimah said he had reached the conclusion that “there simply has not been enough time to build sufficient support, and I have decided to step back”.
“My purpose in campaigning for a solution to break the deadlock, and bringing new ideas to help my party win over modern Britain, will not change,” the pro-second referendum MP said.
“I wish all the contenders the very best at this challenging time as they make the case to take our country forward.”