Liz Truss is getting support from senior Tory leaders as ex-Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis reveals he is backing the Foreign Secretary for the top job. Former Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, who initially ran Nadhim Zahawi’s leadership campaign, described his decision to back Liz Truss as an “easy choice” given the Foreign Secretary’s work negotiating with the EU over Ulster’s post-Brexit trading arrangement.
According to the Times, Mr Zahawi, who replaced Rishi Sunak as Chancellor earlier this month, is also expected to endorse Ms Truss in the coming days.
The news comes as Ms Truss and Mr Sunak continue with their campaigns to become Prime Minister and Tory Party leader.
Ms Truss has pitched herself as the “education prime minister” with a plan that includes replacing failing academies with “a new wave of free schools” and improving maths and literacy standards.
The Tory leadership hopeful, who is endorsed by several party heavyweights, has added to the sense she is pulling ahead of her rival in the race for Number 10 and unveiled a six-point strategy “to get Britain’s education system back on track” on Saturday.
Explaining his support for Ms Truss, Mr Lewis told the Telegraph: “What I’ve seen consistently with Liz is somebody who understands the union, has been strong and resolute on defending and protecting the union.”
One ally also told The Times: “Lewis appreciated her grip on the issue and liked working with her.”
Mr Zahawi is understood to be enjoying his role as Chancellor and is keen to remain in Number 11.
The revelation comes a day after Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, followed Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in declaring his support for Ms Truss.
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With Zahawi and Lewis on board, Truss has the support of 10 members of Johnson’s inner circle, including Work & Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.
Mark Fullbrook, an ally of the Australian election guru Lynton Crosby, has joined Ms Truss’ team as co-campaign director, while Ruth Porter, a former aide to the Foreign Secretary, has returned to her side.
In contrast, Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor, has only attracted the support of four members of Johnson’s top team – as those behind him complain his campaign is floundering after a number of lacklustre performances and policy pledges.
Mr Sunak’s U-turn on VAT cuts last week has been seized upon as a sign of panic and has undermined his pitch to be the candidate of fiscal responsibility.
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The development comes as a poll by the Sunday Times shows Truss has an edge over Sunak among voters who are familiar with the candidates.
The survey of more than 11,000 adults by Focaldata puts Truss on 38 per cent, compared with Rishi on 35 per cent.
Labour polled 37 per cent against Truss – giving her a narrow one percentage point lead – and 39 per cent against Sunak.