BOURNEMOUTH East MP Tobias Ellwood has backed Rory Stewart in the Tory leadership race.

The Defence Minister, speaking to Sky News, first paid tribute to Matt Hancock, who he had previously backed but who quit the contest the day after coming sixth in the first ballot of the party's MPs.

Mr Ellwood said: "He (Mr Hancock) wanted to invest up to three per cent in defence, to harness technology, to promote and improve our economy. And he wanted to reform our party.

"But those messages were suffocated by the subject of Brexit."

Acknowledging former London Mayor Boris Johnson as the leadership race's current runaway winner, Mr Ellwood said: "That rugby ball has popped out of the scrum and he's grabbed it.

"The question is though, do we just allow him to walk across to the touchline and put the ball down, and have that coronation? I don't think that is right, I actually want to see Boris tested.

"The nation is watching this, we should utilise this opportunity to showcase, to road test policies, show that we deserve to remain in Number 10.

"I believe with Boris Johnson in one corner and Rory Stewart in another, that is a competition that will be exciting."

Asked whether he though Mr Johnson would be a good Prime Minister, Mr Ellwood replied: "He is a centre right pragmatist, he is very much wanting to move Britain forward, but there is this huge issue over Brexit. I think he would make a fine Prime Minister.

"My concern is the fact he may be wanting to tilt towards no deal, and that would be a big concern for me.

"This would damage our economy, it would damage our reputation nationally and also damage our security prospects as well.

"With Rory Stewart we have someone who is committed to make sure we leave with a deal, and that is what I would like to see."

Mr Stewart, who became an MP for Penrith and The Border in 2010, was appointed Secretary of State for International Development in May this year.

Previously he served as Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice from January 2018 until May 2019.