Sky News has cancelled its Tory leadership debate after Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss pulled out.
The channel had been due to broadcast the third televised clash between the five remaining candidates tomorrow night.
But following angry exchanges between Sunak and Truss in last night’s debate on ITV, both said they no longer wanted to take part amid concerns about the damage they were doing to the party’s reputation.
The five leadership hopefuls also took part in a live debate on Channel 4 on Friday night.
The result of the third ballot of Tory MPs will be announced at 8pm, with the last of the five remaining candidates being eliminated.
The final two - who will go forward to a summer-long run-off - will be decided on Wednesday, and Conservative members will then vote on who is their favourite.
Sunak is expected to be in the final two, with Truss, Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt and Tom Tugendhat fighting it out to be the other candidate.
A source close to Truss told HuffPost UK: “It is not the right time to be doing more debates when this part of the contest only has 358 voters. The broadcasters should stop squabbling amongst themselves.
“With more than a dozen hustings already having taken place the voters in this part of the contest have more than had the opportunity to see the contestants.”
A source close to Sunak said: We are happy to do more debates if we get to the next phase,” they said. “We’ve done two in last three days, which I think is enough for this stage.”
During last night’s ITV debate, the ill-feeling between Sunak and Truss was apparent, with the pair engaging in a number of highly-damaging spats.
Taking aim at Truss’s plans for immediate tax cuts if she wins, former chancellor Sunak said: “This something for nothing economics isn’t Conservative, it’s socialism.”
The foreign secretary hit back: “Under your plans, we are predicted to have a recession because you have raised tax - it is cutting back on growth, it is preventing companies from investing and it is taking money out of people’s pockets.”
Given the chance to grill one of the other candidates, Sunak took aim at Truss’s colourful political CV.
“My question is for Liz, actually,” he said. “Liz, in your past you’ve been both a Liberal Democrat and a Remainer. I was just wondering which one you regretted most.”
In her response, Truss couldn’t resist a jibe at the former chancellor’s privileged upbringing, saying at the state comprehensive she attended in Leeds, kids didn’t get the “opportunities you might have got at your school Rishi”.
A spokesman for Badenoch said: “The people standing in this contest are friends as well as colleagues and afterwards the party must come together to deliver for the country.
“Kemi welcomes public scrutiny - it builds trust. She is open to a debate which sheds light on the issues that matter, but not one which is designed purely to cause a row.”
A spokesperson for Mordaunt said: “Media scrutiny is important in this contest. Penny has done broadcast and allowed time for journalists to ask questions at her launch.
“MPs aren’t just picking a new leader, but picking the nation’s new PM. Penny hopes there will be ample opportunity for such scrutiny later in the contest in a format that allows detailed questions and insights.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The country deserves better than Tory candidates hiding from scrutiny simply because their first two performances have shown they would be a danger to the economy and the future of the U.K.
“This is a hopelessly divided Tory party, one that has racked up over £300 billion in unfunded promises and yet still has no plan to get to grips with their cost of living crisis. Only a Labour government can give Britain the fresh start it needs.”
“This Conservative ‘leadership’ contest is so embarrassing they’ve cancelled the debate - so you can’t see them fighting like rats in a sack.”
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “The Conservatives say they want to lead but they won’t even turn up to debate the issues that matter to our country.
“Each of them are treating the nation with utter contempt and they’ve been taking people for granted for long enough.”