Essex MP James Cleverly first to back out of Tory leadership race

Braintree MP James Cleverly has pulled out of the Conservative leadership race. Picture: Dominic Lip

Braintree MP James Cleverly has pulled out of the Conservative leadership race. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Essex MP and Junior Brexit Minister James Cleverly has become the first of the candidates aiming to lead the Conservative Party to drop out of the race.

The Braintree MP announced on his website that he was pulling out the day after politicians returned to Westminster at the end of the Whitsun recess during which 13 ended up announcing they were going for the top job in the party - which would give them the keys to Number 10.

In the message Mr Cleverly said: "Last week I announced that I intended to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister.

"I felt that we needed to deliver Brexit and then quickly move the conversation on to other important issues that face the country. I had hoped that the Conservative parliamentary party would support me to be the face and voice of that conversation.

"To do this I asked them to make a leap of faith, skip a generation and vote for a relatively new MP.

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"It is clear that despite much support, particularly from our party's grassroots, MPs weren't comfortable with such a move and it has become clear that it is highly unlikely that I would progress to be one of the final two candidates.

"For this reason I have withdrawn from the process of selecting a new leader and will not be submitting nomination papers."

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Mr Cleverly has not yet said which of the remaining candidates will have his backing - but he knows front-runner Boris Johnson well having been a member of the London Assembly between 2008 and 2016, and leader of the Conservative group there from 2011-12.

Like Mr Johnson he voted to leave the EU in 2016 - and before being appointed a minister earlier this year had built up his recognition in his high-profile role as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.

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