ITV to host first Tory leadership debate in race to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister

Jeremy Hunt (r), who faced Boris Johnson in the 2019 leadership debate will be hoping to take part again, as will former chancellor Rishi Sunak and trade minister Penny Mordaunt. Credit: PA

The first Tory leadership debate will be hosted by ITV on Sunday, with unknown underdogs and big-hitting Cabinet ministers all hoping they can get on the billing.

It is not yet clear how many candidates will be taking part in the debate, with the rules and timeframe for the contest still yet to be set out.

There are 11 hopefuls so far, however that number is likely to be significantly reduced by the time the first debate takes place at 7pm on Sunday, July 17.

Tory MPs will be balloted this week to find out which candidates have secured the required number of nominations to progress in the contest.

Any hopefuls who do not reach the threshold of nominations will be booted from the race and their backers will have to throw their weight behind someone else.

It's thought the number of nominations required to progress will be 20, meaning former chancellor Rishi Sunak and trade minister Penny Mordaunt are almost certain to take part in Sunday's debate. Both already have more than 20 nominations.

The rules and timeframe for the leadership contest will be decided on Monday evening by the 1922 Committee, a governing body within the Tory party which represents its backbenchers.

Ballots of Tory MPs are expected to take place on Wednesday and Thursday and next Tuesday and Wednesday, Bob Blackman, joint-executive secretary of the 1922 Committee told Sky News.

That means there is still time for other hopefuls to throw their hat into the ring and several are said to be considering it.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is reportedly debating whether to enter the race and there is speculation that Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee, could too.

Those entering the race at such a late stage may struggle to win support from their colleagues, given so many have already picked a side.

Reaching the debate may also prove difficult for Rehman Chishti, the latest Tory to join the race, due to his very low profile.

The newly appointed Foreign Office minister made an even unlikelier bid for the Tory leadership on Sunday evening in a video posted on Facebook.

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Mr Chishti said the right candidate would have “a proven track record of coming to the table with ideas and creativity to help improve people’s lives”, but so far hasn't secured any nominations.

In 2019, ITV's Conservative leadership debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt was watched by 4.4 million viewers.

It was hosted by presenter Julie Etchingham. ITV has not yet revealed who will host the debate this time. It will be held at ITV's White City studios.

Michael Jermey, ITV's Director of News and Current Affairs said: "Television debates at important elections help voters engage with politics.

"ITV has been the home of some of the biggest political debates over the past decade.

"Sunday's debate will be an important event as the country's next prime minister is chosen."