CLACTON MP Giles Watling has backed Penny Mordaunt as the next Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister.

Rishi Sunak has become the firm frontrunner to be the next prime minister after Boris Johnson ended his comeback bid and rival Penny Mordaunt battled to win sufficient support from Tory MPs.

Mr Sunak, a former chancellor, swiftly hit the threshold of 100 nominations from Conservative colleagues ahead of the deadline of 2pm on Monday before commanding the public support of about half the parliamentary party.

Ms Mordaunt appears far behind but allies insist they are “confident” she will hit the target, which would see the Commons Leader face off against Mr Sunak in an online ballot of Tory party members.

But if she fails Mr Sunak will effectively receive a “coronation” from Conservative MPs and quickly succeed Liz Truss as prime minister – seven weeks after he lost out to her in the last contest.

A Government source said the new prime minister could be in place as soon as Monday if the Tory leadership contest does not progress further.

Mr Watling said he spent a few days consulting with local members and the wider community in Clacton.

The Tory MP said: "Firstly, I think that this is a disgraceful state of affairs.

"For the record, I have not contributed to this sideshow in the parliamentary party.

"I have never signed a no-confidence letter in a PM because I feel that we need to focus 100% on the country, and not on political shenanigans.

"I didn’t call for a vote against May or Boris for this reason.

"The public gave us instructions with issues such as Brexit, and we simply needed to get on with it – it isn’t hard! Many of my colleagues need to reflect on what the people of Clacton and beyond need, and not what is best in terms of self-interest. But we now have a choice to make.

"I’m supporting Penny Mordaunt and have done for at least a year.

"She gained a seat from Labour and built from a small majority to a safe seat through hard work.

"She is a trustworthy and gallant member of our armed forces and I know that she will be a robust and strong force on the world stage, promoting global Britain, strengthening the commonwealth, making the government a smaller, cheaper and more efficient machine and getting Clacton the Brexit dividend it deserves.

If Penny wins, she will be ready to go face-to-face with Mr Putin and get the government to act more efficiently on local issues important to us in Essex, such as the need to upgrade dental and GP services.

"Finally, I’d like to say that I have the utmost respect for Boris Johnson for his Churchillian approach to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, and I have respect for Rishi Sunak for his delivery of just the right sort of fiscal delivery we needed to get us through the pandemic without alarming the markets.

"However we need to move on and enter a new unblemished leadership to tackle the undoubtedly difficult challenges ahead."