Andrew Neil issues ominous leadership warning to Rishi after first round success

Grant Shapps explains why he's backing Rishi Sunak for PM

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The veteran journalist spoke out after Jeremy Hunt threw his weight behind former Chancellor Rishi Sunak after being knocked out of the race to succeed Boris Johnson in the first round of voting by Tory MPs. He warned the endorsement would not “mean his votes will follow”.

Mr Neil posted on Twitter: “Hunt now backing Sunak. Doesn’t mean his votes will follow.”

Mr Hunt, who along with Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi failed to garner the 30 votes needed to progress to the next stage of the contest, described Mr Sunak as “one of the most decent, straight people with the highest standards of integrity” in politics.

The endorsement gives the former chancellor a boost ahead of the second ballot today, which will eliminate the least popular candidate.

Mr Sunak, whose resignation from No 11 helped trigger the Tory leadership race, topped Wednesday’s ballot, followed by trade minister Penny Mordaunt and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, senior backbencher Tom Tugendhat and Attorney General Suella Braverman are also among the final six candidates.

Mr Hunt, who has held the offices of health and foreign secretary, said he is backing Mr Sunak because of his character and approach to the economy.

He said in a statement: “I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m supporting Rishi Sunak. And that’s for two reasons.

“First of all, the big challenge we face now is economic, and this is someone of formidable ability, who has been thinking about the right thing to do for our economy, for families up and down the country, very hard over the last two years.

“But in the end it’s not about policy. I’ve been around long enough to know that politics is really about character and Rishi is one of the most decent, straight people with the highest standards of integrity that I have ever met in British politics and that’s why I would be proud to have him as my nextPrime Minister.”

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Mr Hunt had earlier condemned “smears and attacks” by rival camps, after Johnson loyalists accused Mr Sunak’s team of using “dark arts” following claims they tried to “syphon off” votes to ensure Mr Hunt cleared the threshold to enter the contest because they believed Mr Sunak would beat him in a run-off vote of party members.

Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee overseeing the contest, read out the results of Wednesday’s vote in a crowded Committee Room 14 in the House of Commons.

Mr Sunak was on 88, Ms Mordaunt on 67, Ms Truss, 50, Ms Badenoch, 40, Mr Tugendhat, 37, and Ms Braverman squeaked through on 32.

Mr Zahawi, brought in by Mr Johnson after Mr Sunak’s resignation, got 25 and Mr Hunt only 18.

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