The ex-chancellor launches his own party leadership bid, calling his former boss a “remarkable” man.
Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak has launched his bid to become Conservative leader, warning against “demonising” the “remarkable” Boris Johnson.
He also hit out at his rivals’ tax-cut promises, dismissing them as “not credible” until the rate of inflation is brought under control.
Ten candidates are running to be Tory leader and PM. They need the backing of 20 MPs by 18:00 BST.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has ruled out entering the contest.
She said she wouldn’t stand despite “encouragement and support” to do so from colleagues and Tory supporters.
Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps withdrew as a candidate.
Of the remaining candidates, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Mr Sunak, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, and backbench MP Tom Tugendhat have so far passed the threshold to get on the ballot.
Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC he also had enough support to get through.
In a series of votes, Conservative MPs will begin whittling the candidates down on Wednesday, with the final two going to a full ballot of around 160,000 party members over the summer.
In a busy morning, Mr Tugendhat and former Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch also officially launched their leadership bids with media events that enabled them to demonstrate their support.
Withdrawing from the contest, Mr Shapps pledged his support to Mr Sunak, with Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also backing him.
But Tory heavyweight Michael Gove, sacked from the cabinet last week by Mr Johnson, is among those supporting Ms Badenoch.
And former senior minister Damian Green is one of the MPs backing Mr Tugendhat.
At his campaign launch, in central London, Mr Sunak, who quit the government last week in protest at Mr Johnson’s leadership, said: “Boris Johnson is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.
“And, whatever some commentators may say, he has a good heart.”
He added: “Is he flawed? Yes. And so are the rest of us.”
Mr Sunak said he had resigned because Mr Johnson’s leadership was “no longer working”, but he would have “no part in a rewriting of history that seeks to demonise Boris, exaggerate his faults or deny his efforts”.
So far, the contest has focused on the issue of tax cuts, with most candidates saying they would make them immediately if they got into Downing Street.
But Mr Sunak warned that it was not credible to promise more spending and lower taxes in the immediate term.
“While that may be politically inconvenient for me, it is also the truth,” he added, “as is the fact that once we’ve gripped inflation, I will get the tax burden down. It is a question of when, not if.”
The candidates for the party leadership (with numbers of declared backers so far) are:
- Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (16)
- Attorney General Suella Braverman (12)
- Foreign Office minister Rehman Chishti (0)
- Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (13)
- Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid (11)
- Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt (25)
- Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak (45)
- Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (21)
- Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat (20)
- Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi (14)
The result is due to be announced on 5 September.
Conservative leadership timetable
Tuesday 12 July – nominations to get on the ballot open, closing at 18:00 BST
Wednesday 13 July – first round of voting among Tory MPs
Thursday 14 July – likely date for second round of voting
Monday 18 July – likely date for third round of voting, if required
Thursday 21 July – deadline for deciding final two candidates
Monday 5 September – winner announced
At her campaign launch, Ms Badenoch promised she would not enter into a “bidding war” over tax cuts, saying: “The dividing line in this race is not tax cuts; it’s judgement.”
“It’s time to tell the truth,” she told supporters. “For too long politicians have been saying you can have it all – you can have your cake and eat it. But I’m here to tell you that’s not the case.”
Meanwhile, Mr Tugendhat promised to slash fuel duty by 10p and reverse the recent rise in National Insurance payments if he became prime minister.
“I am here to make the case that our economy can only prosper if we believe that people – and not Westminster – know best how to spend their money,” he said.
Addressing his lack of ministerial experience, Mr Tugendhat said: “The reality is that the job of prime minister is unlike every other job in government.
“It’s not a management job; it’s not a departmental job. It’s a job that demands vision and leadership.”
Mr Johnson – whose premiership collapsed as ministers criticised and quit over his handling of Partygate and other scandals – will not be endorsing any of the candidates.
He said on Monday: “I wouldn’t want to damage anyone’s chances with my support.”
Opposition parties and some Tory MPs have called for Mr Johnson to go immediately and, according to sources, Labour is planning to table a confidence motion in the government.
It could be held as early as Wednesday and, if Labour is successful, it could prompt a general election.
But it is unlikely enough Conservatives would back the motion for this to happen.