International Trade Minister Kemi Badenoch tonight announced she is backing former chancellor Rishi Sunak in next week’s Conservative leadership race.

Her decision, announced in an op-ed in the Times, is perhaps the most significant development to date in the current Conservative leadership race. Badenach writes that Mr Sunak is the only candidate who has any chance of beating Sir Keir Starmer at the next general election.

Ms Badenoch, who came fourth in the summer Conservative leadership contest with the support of 59 MPs, had previously been seen as likely to run as a right-wing Conservative candidate.

During the current race, it was thought possible that Ms Badenoch could also win the support of a number of those MPs who backed Liz Truss over the summer, giving her a real chance of making it to the final. stages of the competition next week.

Her decision not to run now removes one potentially serious candidate from the race.

Moreover, by supporting Mr. Sunac himself, Ms. Badenock may also persuade a number of her supporters to do the same. If she does, Mr Sunak will likely be able to win the support of a majority of Conservative MPs.

All attention is now focused on whether Boris Johnson will be able to get the support of the 100 MPs he needs to run. Had he done so, he would in all likelihood have emerged victorious in the next Conservative Party poll.

However, despite claims by some in Boris Johnson’s camp that he now has the support of 100 Conservative MPs, only 55 Conservative MPs have so far publicly confirmed that they do.

In the absence of real names, a number of MPs supporting Rishi Sunak have questioned claims that Mr Johnson has the necessary numbers. Instead, they accuse Johnson’s camp of using such statements as part of a desperate bid to build momentum for the former prime minister.

For the time being, these claims from the Sunak camp seem to hold weight.

The MPs who have so far supported Mr Johnson can mostly be described as “die hard” Johnson supporters, most of whom served in his transitional government this summer.

Although Mr Johnson won the support of 211 Conservative MPs in a no-confidence vote in June, that was before his premiership deteriorated so dramatically in early July.

In the early stages of the current contest, there are no visible signs that Mr Johnson has managed to attract support beyond his staunch supporter base in the parliamentary Conservative Party.

This is significant because the die-hard fan base alone will still fall short of the required 100 MPs.

If Mr Johnson fails to get 100 MPs and Ms Badenoch is no longer considering the race, the question is how many of Mr Johnson’s supporters will switch their allegiance to Ms Mordaunt at the last minute – so that Mr Sunak faces a party vote .

If they don’t, it’s possible that Ms Badenock’s intervention tonight will leave her in the role of ‘kingmaker’ for Rishi Sunak’s future premiership.