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Rishi Sunak remains out in front as TV debate cancelled over ‘damage it may cause’ to Tory party

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Rishi Sunak topped last night's Conservative Party ballot. Photo: Reuters/John Sibley

Rishi Sunak topped last night's Conservative Party ballot. Photo: Reuters/John Sibley

Rishi Sunak topped last night's Conservative Party ballot. Photo: Reuters/John Sibley

Rishi Sunak remains the frontrunner after the third round of the Tory leadership contest, with Penny Mordaunt still in second place amid an increasingly bitter contest.

In the third ballot of the Tory leadership contest last night, Mr Sunak got 115 votes, Ms Mordaunt 82, Liz Truss 71, Kemi Badenoch 58 and Tom Tugendhat 31.

Attorney General and right-winger Suella Braverman, who was knocked out of the contest last week, had thrown her weight behind Ms Truss.

That endorsement, however, appears to have not been enough to push the foreign secretary into second place.

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The ballot came after another fraught day of campaigning in the Tory Party leadership contest, despite concerns being expressed publicly about the growing divisions within the party over the contest.

Most notable yesterday was the accusation that Ms Mordaunt missed ministerial meetings because she was plotting her leadership bid.

The trade minister’s absence from meetings forced colleagues to pick up the pieces, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan earlier alleged.

In a sign of the concern about the way the leadership race is being conducted, Mr Sunak and Ms Truss confirmed they did not want to take part in a Sky News debate planned for today – prompting the broadcaster to cancel the show.

“Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative Party, exposing disagreements and splits within the party,” a Sky statement said.

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer said he is “astonished” by candidates withdrawing from the debate, arguing that it demonstrates a lack of “confidence”.

He told reporters: “I can see, based on what I’ve seen in the debates so far, why they want to do so because this is a party that is out of ideas, out of purpose, they’re tearing each other apart.”

Tom Tugendhat has not yet said which candidate he will now back following his elimination last night.

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