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Sunak has support of over half of Tory MPs as deadline approaches

Today is a pivotal day in the history of the Conservative Party, with former Chancellor Rishi Sunak on the brink of becoming the next Prime Minister. He now has the confirmed support of over half of the parliamentary party, in 179.

The game is not yet up for rival and fellow hopeful Penny Mordaunt however, as the Portsmouth MP and leader of the House of Commons is still briefing that she ‘is getting’ the numbers required to be on the ballot this afternoon, but a question mark hangs over this with only 25 MPs supporting her publicly. She has also claimed that she is the unity candidate, and has promised a ‘robust sense of collective responsibility’.

Powerful Conservative Lord Frost has called for Penny Mordaunt to stand aside, for ‘the sake of party unity’.

Sunak’s numbers yet again jumped early this morning, and that is in no small part due to the withdrawal of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson from the race late on Sunday night. Johnson’s team, despite puling out made assurances that he did reach the required 100 supporters, but that he would struggle to unite the Conservative Party behind him, and the now was ‘not the right time’.

This throws up just as many questions as it answers however, as although Rishi Sunak can now say that he has the backing of the party, there remains resentments and grudges that are still held against him by supporters of Boris Johnson, going back to the last leadership elections and the way in which Boris Johnson was removed from 10 Downing Street over the ‘partygate’ scandal just three months ago.

The opposition parties have again been calling for a General Election this weekend, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer saying: “Let the public in, let the people decide, we need a general election now”. Labour has also stated that ‘the Tories have done a stitch-up instead of going to the people’.

Rishi Sunak may be able to reunite the parliamentary Conservative Party, however there are issues that remain within the wider Tory membership, as many feel that, like the previous leadership election, the final vote needs to go to the membership. Many feel that a new PM needs the endorsement of the wider party in order to claim any form of mandate.

It is unclear as of now how the process develops over the coming hours, and one scenario that is currently being contemplated is that if Penny Mordaunt was to drop out and pave the way for Rishi Sunak, could he be in Number 10 as early as this evening? 

It is unclear as to whether the mechanisms are in place to allow that, as the King would need to be in London to ask Sunak to form a government, but who can say how the next few hours will play out.

One thing is for sure however, Penny Mordaunt isn’t looking like throwing in the towel just yet, as Rishi Sunak and his campaign continues to gather pace and momentum as the deadline gets closer.