Right-wing Tory MP Liam Fox is now Conservative members' first choice for leader

Eurosceptics' star is rising in the Conservative party

Conservative MP Liam Fox has surged into poll position as Tory activists’ preference to be the party’s next leader. 

The former defence secretary came top of the ConservativeHome members’ panel survey for the first time in February.

The popular Tory website has been surveying its members’ panel for their preference for next leader since shortly after David Cameron confirmed he would step down before the next election.

Dr Fox, who is from the hard, eurosceptic right wing of his party, has surged from fifth place in December 2015 to first place in the latest of the monthly straw polls.

A strong supporter of British military intervention and Britain’s alliance with the US, the MP is a staunch eurosceptic, has called for “huge restrictions” on abortion, voted against same-sex marriage, and called for the end to ring-fenced funding of the “wasteful” NHS.

He now narrowly leads the pack on a split field – on 20.89 per cent just ahead of Theresa May, who is on 20.6 per cent of the vote.

Following up behind is Boris Johnson, who is on 18.6 per cent, George Osborne on 14.9 per cent and Sajid Javid on 14.02 per cent.

 “The direction of events is clear … those members associated with Brexit – such as Chris Grayling and Priti Patel – are seeing their ratings rise sharply if their previous standing in it was relatively low,” wrote Paul Goodman, the website’s editor.

The website said the survey had been conducted at the end of January and before the result of David Cameron’s EU negotiations had become known.

The adverse reaction from eurosceptics to the deal could further boost the fortunes of eurosceptic MPs in in the next survey, due this time next month.

Dr Fox himself described the draft deal offered to Mr Cameron by the European Council president Donald Tusk as a “very limited set of demands” which had been “watered down by the EU in every area”.

“The British people want to take back control and end the supremacy of EU law over our economy, our borders and our Parliament,” he said in a statement at the time.

“None of these changes even come close to the fundamental changes promised to the public. We are being asked to risk staying in the EU based on the back of empty promises from the EU that are not even backed up in Treaty. 

“The only safe option is to Vote Leave.” 

Dr Fox unsuccessfully stood for Tory leadership in 2005. He was eliminated in the second round of voting amongst Tory MPs and came third to Mr Cameron and David Davis.

He resigned as Defence Secretary in 2011 over allegations he had given a close lobbyist friend access to the Ministry of Defence.

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