The race to replace Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and prime minister is officially under way, with contenders setting out their pitches.
Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock outlined their plans at campaign launches on Monday.
Sam Gyimah, the only contender backing another referendum on Brexit, has withdrawn from the race, saying there was not enough time to build support.
Nominations have closed and candidates will be announced shortly.
Mrs May officially stepped down as the leader of the Conservative Party last week, but will remain as prime minister until her successor is chosen.
Conservative MPs who want to replace her must have the backing of eight other party colleagues to get to the next stage of the contest.
BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake said the race to become the next prime minister had also become “a live debate for the future of the Conservative Party itself”.
He said: “You are starting to see domestic policy issues creeping into the discussions.
“The question will be how much of an airing those ideas can get, and how much of a hearing, because frankly, by far and away at the top of the next prime minister’s to do list will be delivering Brexit – and time is short.”
Environment Secretary Mr Gove, who has faced calls to drop out of the race after he admitted using cocaine several times more than 20 years ago, repeated at his campaign launch that he regrets “his past mistakes”.
His speech focused on the policies he would introduce as leader, including the creation of a “national cyber crime task force” and more protection for the armed forces from legal challenges.
He said he wants to “ensure that our NHS is fully-funded, properly funded” and that funding is protected under law.
In a swipe at Boris Johnson’s earlier tax policy pledge to cut income tax bills for people earning more than £50,000 a year, he said: “One thing I will never do as PM is use our tax and benefits system to give the already wealthy another tax cut.”
He also said the party leader needs to be someone who has been “tested in the heat of battle” and not one who has been “hiding in their bunker”.
Mr Johnson has so far not conducted any broadcast interviews about his campaign.
On Brexit, Mr Gove said it was “not enough to believe in Brexit you’ve also got to be able to deliver it”, insisting he has “a proper plan”.
Earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told his launch the Conservatives and the country “need a fresh start”, announcing one of his key pledges – to increase the national living wage to more than £10 an hour.
Ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said he was “a committed Brexiteer” who could be trusted to secure the UK’s departure. He also unveiled plans to redirect £500m a year from the aid budget to create an international wildlife fund.
Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt, meanwhile, said a “very smart” approach was needed to break the Brexit impasse, saying an “experienced, serious leader” was needed, not “empty rhetoric”.
He also attempted to end criticism of his stance on abortion by insisting he would not try to change the law if chosen as PM.
It was announced earlier that two cabinet ministers – Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt and Remainer Amber Rudd – back Mr Hunt.
Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey outlined her campaign at a think tank event, saying “we have nothing to fear” from a no-deal Brexit, and pledging to give a pay rise to public sector workers.
International Development Secretary Rory Stewart faced callers’ questions during a live phone-in on BBC Radio 4’s World at One.
He called for compromise over Brexit, and said he would give Parliament “a final chance” to vote through the existing deal that Mrs May negotiated with the EU.
But he ruled out supporting a further referendum, arguing “it wouldn’t resolve anything”.
Who will replace Theresa May?
The winner of the contest to lead the Conservative Party will become the next prime minister.
- Home Secretary Sajid Javid picked up further support, with ministers Caroline Nokes and Victoria Atkins choosing to back him after Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson announced her support on Saturday
- Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom also plan campaign launches. Earlier, Mrs Leadsom said she would find a way to bring about a “managed exit” from the EU, even without a deal
- Sam Gyimah says as prime minister he would help young people get on the housing ladder by slashing stamp duty and creating at least a million new homes in five years
Whereas candidates in the past would have only needed two MPs supporting them, senior Tories decided to change the rules earlier this month in a bid to speed up the contest.
After nominations close, all 313 Conservative MPs will vote for their preferred candidate in a series of ballots held on 13, 18, 19 and 20 June to whittle down the contenders one by one until only two are left.
Due to another rule change, candidates will need to win the votes of at least 16 other MPs in the first ballot and 32 colleagues in the second to proceed.
The final two will be put to the 160,000 or so members of the wider Conservative Party in a vote from 22 June, with the winner expected to be announced about four weeks later.
On Tuesday 18 June BBC One will be hosting a live election debate between the Conservative MPs who are still in the race.
If you would like to ask the candidates a question live on air, use the form below. It should be open to all of them, not a specific politician.
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