Eight contenders will be on the ballot paper when Tory MPs begin voting on Wednesday to elect a successor to Boris Johnson, the chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, has announced.
Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat, Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt, Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi and Suella Braverman all secured the 20 nominations from fellow MPs needed to enter the contest.
Moments before the announcement in a Commons committee room, former health secretary Sajid Javid said he was pulling out having apparently failed to attract enough support.
Earlier Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that he was abandoning his bid and would be supporting Sunak, the former chancellor.
Backbencher Rehman Chishti – seen as the rank outsider – also said that he was dropping out having failed to get enough nominations.
Meanwhile Truss, the Foreign Secretary, gained the endorsement of prominent Boris Johnson loyalists Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and James Cleverly, in what was seen as a concerted move to prevent Sunak entering No 10.
Many supporters of the prime minister remain furious with Sunak for the role he played in bringing him down, with his decision last week to quit helping to trigger a further slew of resignations.
The foreign secretary’s campaign also received a potential fillip with the announcement by Home Secretary Priti Patel, a fellow right winger, that she would not be standing, giving Truss a clearer run.
Dorries accused Sunak’s team of “dirty tricks” after claims that one of his supporters – ex-chief whip Gavin Williamson – had been trying to “syphon off” votes for Hunt so he would make it to the final run-off with Sunak.
“This is dirty tricks/a stitch up/dark arts. Take your pick. Team Rishi want the candidate they know they can definitely beat in the final two and that is Jeremy Hunt,” she tweeted.
The claim was denied by Hunt, who told LBC radio: “We are running completely independent campaigns.
“It’s a very dangerous game to play and so I think most people would be very wary before doing that sort of thing. I’m not saying it never happens.”
Under the rules set out by Sir Graham, candidates who fail to get 30 votes in the first ballot will be eliminated, with a second vote expected on Thursday.
The process is then likely to continue into next week, with candidate with the lowest vote dropping out, until the list of candidates is whittled down to just two.
They will have the summer recess to win the support of the Tory membership, which will ultimately chose the next prime minister, with the final result due on September 5.
Gavin Cordon and Sam Blewett
(Australian Associated Press)