Two former health secretaries, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, on Sunday announced bids to stand as Conservative party leader with pledges to slash taxes in an effort to win support from MPs.
A total of nine candidates have now announced they will stand to replace Boris Johnson as UK prime minister, with more expected to declare in the coming days.
According to the bookmakers’ Ladbrokes Coral, former chancellor Rishi Sunak is in pole position to be the next leader. He has also picked up the largest number of endorsements so far, with 27 Tory MPs pledging their support.
Penny Mordaunt, the trade minister, also launched a bid on Sunday with a focus on being a team player. “Our leadership needs to change. It needs to become a little less about the leader and a lot more about the ship,” she said.
Javid, the first cabinet minister to resign from the government this week — prompting the events that led to the prime minister’s resignation as Tory leader on Thursday — put the economy as his central campaign issue.
He pledged to scrap the national insurance rise that was introduced while he was health secretary earlier this year, which is unpopular with fiscal conservatives.
“I’m not sure I would have done it if I had been chancellor, but I was focused on my job and I’m not trying to do other people’s jobs for them,” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
Javid and Hunt also pledged to slash corporation tax. While Hunt said he would introduce an immediate cut from 19p to 15p, Javid said he would reduce it by 1p a year to reach the same level.
Hunt, who openly criticised Johnson in last month’s no-confidence vote in the prime minister, argued that any tax cuts must be funded by growth.
“I would love to see income tax cut, but it has to be done in a way that is sustainable,” he wrote in the Telegraph. “It can’t be an electoral bribe and it depends on growth. What you’d need is an income tax cut that is for life, not for Christmas. That means starting by saying we’re going to get the economy growing, then you get yourself in a position.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps also announced on Sunday that he was standing and sought to rally MPs who remained loyal to the outgoing prime minister. “I like Boris Johnson”, he told the Sunday Times.
Shapps added: “It is easy to criticise Boris after keeping one’s head down for years while being happy to benefit from his patronage. I am glad that I did not do that.”
The contest will formally begin on Monday when the rules will be confirmed by the 1922 committee of backbench Tories. Nominations are expected to open on Tuesday, with the first round of shortlisting by MPs on Wednesday.
More candidates are expected to declare in the coming days. Foreign secretary Liz Truss will launch her campaign imminently, according to those with knowledge of her plans.
She is expected to seek to differentiate herself from Sunak on the economy, pledging tax cuts and supply side reform. One Truss ally said: “She’s definitely not the continuity candidate on the economy.”
Truss will advocate “a clear vision for the economy based on Conservative principles”, another ally said. She will focus on regulation and the UK’s divergence from EU rules.