THREE years ago, I resolved to support Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership election, believing him to be the best person for our party, our country and for Darlington.

However, it is of the upmost importance that the Office of Prime Minister represents all the high standards required of public life and I no longer believed that Boris Johnson represented these standards so I resigned as Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for International Trade.

Now, following the resignation of Boris Johnson, it falls to the Conservative Party to elect a new Prime Minister by September 5.

As the leadership campaign progresses, I have been impressed by the quality and diversity of the candidates who have put themselves forward to be our next Prime Minister. It shows how far the Conservative Party has come and says a great deal about modern Britain. The party is now set to elect either our third female Prime Minister or our first British Asian Prime Minister, while the Labour Party is still yet to elect either.

Both remaining candidates, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, are there on merit and I have no doubt that both have the experience and drive to take this country forward.

The country is facing significant challenges, with people in Darlington and further afield facing the rising cost of living and spiralling inflation. The decisions we make today will decide our future. We must get this right or else face the consequences.

As such, I am backing Rishi Sunak as the next leader of the Conservative Party and our Prime Minister.

He has a proven track record and is ready to grip the challenges we face, unite the country and drive us forward. As chancellor, he was faced with an unprecedented economic situation. He stepped up to the challenge and his furlough scheme will go down in history as the strongest initiative which protected millions of jobs throughout the pandemic.

When faced with the cost of living crisis, he again stepped in, introducing a raft of measures to support those most in need of help. Some of this support has already started to make its way into people’s bank accounts and more support is set to follow. This support includes a £400 rebate on energy bills for all households, cutting council tax by £150 for 20m households, an extra £300 for pensioners for their fuel costs and an emergency £650 for eight million struggling households.

Rishi cares and acts to ensure the most vulnerable in society are protected.

As a neighbouring MP of Darlington, he understands the challenges faced by us here in the North East. He has been a tireless champion for our levelling up agenda in Darlington and the wider Tees Valley and took the brave and bold decision to locate the economic campus in Darlington, which we heard this week will find its new home in Brunswick Street. The campus will leave a lasting legacy in the town, putting real decision making in the hands of locals and allowing people to stay local and go far.

Rishi is a man of integrity, is a true friend to me and a true friend to Darlington and that is why I am backing him to be the next Prime Minister of our country.