The right-wing of the Conservative Party should unite behind Liz Truss, senior backer Therese Coffey has said as the foreign secretary struggles to keep pace with the frontrunners.
Ms Truss only nabbed 50 votes in the first ballot of the Tory race, falling behind rivals Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, as she prepares to set out her pitch as a tax-cutter on Thursday morning.
The work and pensions secretary – who called Ms Truss a “fantastic lady” – said it was time for supporters of Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman to fall in behind the foreign secretary.
In a plea to unite those on the right, Ms Coffey claimed “emotions” were still raw and said it may “take a little bit of time” for rival camps to acknowledge Ms Truss had the best chance of making it into the final two.
The cabinet minister told Sky News: “The reason why I think supporters of Kemi and Suella should come and join Liz is because a lot of their policies are in a very similar direction.”
Some Brexiteers MPs were understood to be trying to persuade ardent Brexiteer Ms Braverman – who only squeaked through with 32 votes – to withdraw.
Ms Badenoch, who has strong support from anti-woke MPs, picked up a more impressive 40 votes and is not expected to back out at the second round of voting today.
The rival camps of Ms Truss and Ms Mordaunt engaged in a furious briefing war last night, after the outsider shook up the race by running a close second to Mr Sunak – gaining 67 to his 88.
And a shock YouGov survey showed that Ms Mordaunt would defeat Sunak by 67 per cent to 28 per cent among party members – a huge margin. A Ms Mordaunt versus Ms Truss match-up is closer, at 55 per cent versus 37 per cent.
An ally of Ms Truss told The Times it was not the time for a prime minister who required “stabilisers”, while an ally of Ms Mordaunt accused Ms Truss of pursuing a “dog-whistle, anti-woke Faragist campaign”.
The foreign secretary’s backers have been accused of running a campaign to damage Mr Sunak’s chances in the contest – criticising the former chancellor’s “economically damaging” policies.
In a campaign speech on Thursday, Ms Truss will detail her economic plan, which includes reversing April’s National Insurance rate rise, lowering corporation tax and enacting supply-side reforms.
Despite being a Johnson loyalist, Ms Truss kept her powder dry as the Tory top brass turned on the mortally wounded PM last week, though she did cut short a foreign trip to Indonesia to head back to Westminster as he announced his resignation.
The 46-year-old has made little secret of her leadership ambitions, with a series of high-profile interventions and photo opportunities in which she appeared to be channelling late Margaret Thatcher.
The former-Remainer-turned-ardent-Brexiteer’s threats to tear up parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU play well with sections of the party.
Ms Truss has appealed to Brexiteers by claiming she was a “reluctant Remainer” at the 2016 Brexit referendum. “If I could vote now, I would vote to leave the European Union,” she told The Spectator.
She added: “I was a reluctant Remainer. I was loyal to the prime minister at the time, David Cameron.”
Conservative MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) are split over which candidate will best champion the Brexit cause, with ERG chair Mark Francois backing Ms Truss.
Contrasting her experience with that of relative newcomer Ms Mordaunt, Ms Truss is expected to say: “I am ready to be prime minister on day one. I can lead, make tough decisions and rise to the moment.”
The second round of voting by Tory MPs takes place between 11.30am and 1.30pm, with a result announced at 3pm.