Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced his intention to bid to become the next Conservative party leader, adding that he will end “tactical government by an often distracted centre”.
Shapps becomes the second serving Government minister to kick off their campaign for the leadership, after attorney general Suella Braverman declared her intention on what turned out to be the eve of Boris Johnson’s resignation.
Earlier, defence secretary Ben Wallace said that after “careful consideration” and discussion with colleagues and family, he would not stand to be party leader and the next prime minister.
In addition to Shapps, Sunak and Braverman, ex-minister Kemi Badenoch and senior Tory Tom Tugendhat have launched their own bids, with further announcements anticipated over the coming days.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is widely expected to stand, while other potential front-runners include trade minister Penny Mordaunt, chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, and former health secretaries Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.
Launching his campaign in the Sunday Times, Shapps said he wants to rebuild the economy so it is the biggest in Europe by 2050, and address the cost-of-living crisis.
He said he believes in the spirit of levelling up, but the state should “get out of the way” in some areas.
Shapps said: “I do think we have lost sight of what we should be about as a Conservative government.
“We should trust people and allow them to spend their money as they wish.
“We must map a clear path to lower taxes, not just expressing good intentions.
“Covid witnessed a necessary and extraordinary expansion of state spending and a quite unprecedented level of state interference in people’s private lives.
“As Conservatives, we should tolerate the unnecessary continuation of neither.”
The newspaper said it is anticipated that Shapps will launch his campaign website, as well as list his supporters, in the coming hours.
It was reported on Saturday that Boris Johnson intends to stand down as Prime Minister on Monday in order to run again for Tory leader.
But this suggestion was knocked down by a spokesperson for Johnson as completely untrue.
Tory MP Mark Francois has said he believes at least 12 people will put their names forward.
He told GB News: “I haven’t yet decided who I am going to vote for.
“It looks like this is going to be the Grand National but without the fences, so we are probably heading for at least a dozen candidates at the moment.”
Badenoch announced her campaign in The Times, with a plan for a smaller state and a government “focused on the essentials”.
She is backed by Lee Rowley, the MP for North East Derbyshire, and Tom Hunt, the MP for Ipswich.
Former minister Steve Baker has thrown his support behind Braverman’s bid, despite previously saying he was seriously considering putting himself forward for the top job.
Those publicly backing Sunak include Commons leader Mark Spencer, former Tory Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden, former chief whip Mark Harper, ex-ministers Liam Fox and Andrew Murrison, and MPs Sir Bob Neill, Paul Maynard and Louie French.
Other potential contenders have also received endorsements from Tory ranks, despite not yet launching a bid of their own.
MPs Chloe Smith, Julian Knight and Jackie-Doyle Price have backed Truss, while Tory peer and minister Lord Goldsmith has said Zahawi “stands apart from most rivals”.
Gosport MP Dame Caroline Dinenage has declared her support for Mordaunt, while former ministers Chris Philp and Rachel Maclean have said Javid would be their choice for PM.
The leadership bids to date have coincided with some controversy over the appointment of new ministers to Johnson’s caretaker Government.
Labour shadow minister Steve Reed lashed out at the Conservative Party after Sarah Dines, who reportedly asked an alleged victim of Chris Pincher if he was gay, was made parliamentary under-secretary of state jointly at the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
Meanwhile, education minister Andrea Jenkyns has admitted she “should have shown more composure” after making a rude sign to a “baying mob” outside Downing Street, prior to her new appointment.
Commons leader Mark Spencer had said it was up to Jenkyns to “justify” her actions after the gesture was caught on camera.
Dines said she was “honoured” by her appointment, while Jenkyns said she was looking forward to working with the team at the Department for Education.
Sunak announced his bid for leader on Twitter on Friday afternoon, saying: “Let’s restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country.”
The absence of a clear front-runner in the leadership race has tempted a number of less-fancied contenders to step forward with backbencher John Baron saying he will be “taking soundings” over the weekend.
Tory MP and newly-appointed minister Rehman Chishti also confirmed on Saturday he is “actively considering” running for the post.
As candidates have started to make their move, Tory MP Sir Charles Walker said it is incumbent on those running for leader that they “don’t knock lumps out of each other”.
“They are all Conservatives. I think we’ve got to get through the thinning process very, very quickly,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Following elections to the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee on Monday, the new body will draw up a timetable for the leadership election.