PENNY Mordaunt has endorsed Liz Truss’s bid to become the next Tory leader, as Rishi Sunak’s chances continue to fade, despite a last minute gamble on tax.

Ms Mordaunt, who narrowly lost out to the foreign secretary as MPs whittled the field from three to two, said Ms Truss was the “hope candidate”.

With balllot papers arriving this week, the trade minister and Portsmouth North MP said the Tory party membership could “short-change the country” and “may lose an election” if they made the wrong decision in the contest.

Her support added to the sense of momentum around Ms Truss, who has also been backed by other early candidates in the leadership race, including Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat.

Ms Truss was also backed today by nine Tory MSPs representing more than half of Douglas Ross’s front bench at Holyrood, who said she would champion the Union as PM.

The nine - Murdo Fraser, Rachael Hamilton, Liam Kerr, Stephen Kerr, Oliver Mundell, Finlay Carson, Sharon Downey, Douglas Lumsden and Graham Simpson - also said Ms Truss would “break with Treasury orthodoxy by investing directly in projects in Scotland that will benefit the families, communities and businesses we represent”.

Opening a Tory hustings in Exeter tonight, Ms Mordaunt said choosing between the final two candidates was hard, but said: “Who can lead? Who can build that team and deliver for our country? Who does have that bold economic plan that our nation needs?

“Who has got reach? Who can relate to people? Who understands that people need help with the cost of living now? And who is going to rightly clobber our opponents?

“At the start of this final phase of this contest, I didn’t know the answer to those questions but I’ve seen enough to know who the person I’m going to put my faith in is - and that is Liz Truss.”

As Tory members cheered the announcement, Ms Mordaunt added: “Her graft, her authenticity, her determination, her ambition for this country, her consistency and sense of duty - she knows what she believes in, and her resolve to stand up against tyranny and fight for freedom.

“That’s what our country stands for and that’s why I know with her we can win.”

Ms Truss said of Ms Mordaunt: “She’s a great person, she’s a great politician, she’s a great patriot and I’m proud to call her my friend.”

Earlier, Mr Zahawi suggested his predecessor at the Treasury was a “doomster”, when a “booster” economic approach was needed.

Mr Sunak yesterday vowed to cut 4p off the basic rate of income tax by the end of the next parliament if PM, from 20p to 16p in the pound.

Mr Truss’s supporters accused him of a desperate U-turn, and said their candidate would “cut taxes in seven weeks, not seven years”.

Mr Sunak said he was “radical but realistic” and inflation had to be tamed before cuts, or there could be higher inflation and interest rates.