Home Secretary Priti Patel has ruled herself out of the Conservative leadership race just hours before nominations close.
The senior Conservative had been expected to launch a bid today, but released a statement saying her “focus” would remain on the day job.
It comes after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps became the first to drop out of the race – leaving the number of candidates currently standing at 10.
Nominations are open until 6pm, after which Sir Graham Brady – who chairs the Tory backbench 1922 Committee – will reveal who has made the first cut and can run to be the next party leader, and prime minister.
Ms Patel said she was “grateful for the encouragement and support colleagues and party members have offered me in recent days in suggesting that I enter the contest”.
But she added: “I will not be putting my name forward for the ballot of MPs.
“As home secretary, I have always put the security and safety of our country and the national interest first and my focus is to continue working to get more police on our streets, support our amazing security services to keep our country safe and control our borders.”
Ms Patel did not reveal who she would be backing in the race to replace Boris Johnson, instead saying she would be “listening to cases being put forward by the candidates” and “trust the contest will be conducted in a good spirit that brings our party together”.
To make it onto the official ballot, candidates have to first secure nominations from 20 Tory MPs.
Of the 10 people remaining in the race, four have the public backing to make the list – former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, former defence minister Penny Mordaunt, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat.
The teams of ex-Health Secretary Sajid Javid and the new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi also claim to be confident they have the numbers.
But it remains unclear if the other four candidates – Jeremy Hunt, Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman and Rehman Chisthi – will get through.
Once the final list is confirmed, the next round will see the threshold rise to the support of 30 MPs and it will keep rising until the final two candidates are confirmed.
The full party membership will then get to vote for their preferred candidate, with the next leader and prime minister set to be announced on 5th September.
Earlier, Mr Shapps dropped out of the running and pledged his support to Mr Sunak, who also gained the backing of Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab.
But while Mr Sunak leads on the number of public declarations of support, the latest poll of party members from Conservative Home has Ms Mordaunt leading the pack, followed by former equalities minister Ms Badenoch.
There are also reports that those loyal to Mr Johnson have chosen Ms Truss as their “stop Rishi” canidate, with both Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries pledging her their support.
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