Tory leadership contest: Hopefuls vie for spotlight ahead of ballot

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The race to replace Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and prime minister is officially under way, with contenders setting out their pitches.

Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock outlined their proposals at campaign launches on Monday.

It comes as two cabinet ministers – Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt and Remainer Amber Rudd – announced their backing for Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt.

Tory MPs have until 17:00 BST to enter the leadership contest.

Mrs May officially stepped down as the leader of the Conservative Party last week, but will remain as prime minister until her successor is chosen.

Conservative MPs who want to replace her must have the backing of eight other party colleagues to get to the next stage of the contest.

The successful candidates will be announced from 17:30 BST.

BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake said the race to become the next prime minister had also become “a live debate for the future of the Conservative Party itself”.

He said: “You are starting to see domestic policy issues creeping into the discussions.

“The question will be how much of an airing those ideas can get, and how much of a hearing, because frankly, by far and away at the top of the next prime minister’s to do list will be delivering Brexit – and time is short.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told his launch on Tuesday the Conservatives and the country “need a fresh start”, announcing one of his key pledges – to increase the national living wage to more than £10 an hour.

Ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said he was “a committed Brexiteer” who could be trusted to secure the UK’s departure. He also unveiled plans to redirect £500m a year from the aid budget to create an international wildlife fund.

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Mr Hunt, meanwhile, said a “very smart” approach was needed to break the Brexit impasse, saying an “experienced, serious leader” was needed, not “empty rhetoric”. He attempted to end criticism of his stance on abortion by insisting he would not try to change the law if chosen as PM.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey outlined her campaign at a fringe event, saying “we have nothing to fear” from a no-deal Brexit, and pledging to give a pay rise to public sector workers.

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International Development Secretary Rory Stewart faced callers’ questions during a live phone-in on BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

He called for compromise over Brexit, and said he would give Parliament “a final chance” to vote through the existing deal that Mrs May negotiated with the EU.

But he ruled out supporting a further referendum, arguing “it wouldn’t resolve anything”.

Earlier, leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson pledged to cut income tax bills for people earning more than £50,000 a year if he wins the race to succeed Mrs May.

He has not conducted any broadcast interviews about his campaign, but is facing accusations from within his own party and without that focusing a tax cut on the better off would be the wrong thing to prioritise as leader.

Who will replace Theresa May?

The winner of the contest to lead the Conservative Party will become the next prime minister.

Elsewhere:

  • Home Secretary Sajid Javid picked up further support, with ministers Caroline Nokes and Victoria Atkins choosing to back him after Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson announced her support on Saturday
  • Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom also plan campaign launches. Earlier, Ms Leadsom said she would find a way to bring about a “managed exit” from the EU, even without a deal
  • Sam Gyimah says as prime minister he would help young people get on the housing ladder by slashing stamp duty and creating at least a million new homes in five years

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has faced calls to drop out of the race after he admitted using cocaine several times more than 20 years ago.

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Former party chairwoman Baroness Warsi said it would be “hypocrisy of the highest order” for Mr Gove to remain in the contest, after an article he wrote in 1999 in which he criticised “middle class professionals” who took drugs was republished.

Apologising on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the environment secretary said he was “fortunate” to have avoided prison.

And at his campaign launch later on Monday, Mr Gove is expected to insist he is “undaunted” by criticism, and will say he can both deliver Brexit and “stop Jeremy Corbyn ever getting the keys to Downing Street”.

Whereas candidates in the past would have only needed two MPs supporting them, senior Tories decided to change the rules earlier this month in a bid to speed up the contest.

After nominations close, all 313 Conservative MPs will vote for their preferred candidate in a series of ballots held on 13, 18, 19 and 20 June to whittle down the contenders one by one until only two are left.

Due to another rule change, candidates will need to win the votes of at least 16 other MPs in the first ballot and 32 colleagues in the second to proceed.

The final two will be put to the 120,000 or so members of the wider Conservative Party in a vote from 22 June, with the winner expected to be announced about four weeks later.

On Tuesday 18 June BBC One will be hosting a live election debate between the Conservative MPs who are still in the race.

If you would like to ask the candidates a question live on air, use the form below. It should be open to all of them, not a specific politician.

If you are reading this page on the BBC News app, you will need to visit the mobile version of the BBC website to submit your question on this topic.

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