After Boris Johnson’s dramatic exit from the race to become leader of the Conservative Party, Britain’s former finance minister Rishi Sunak has emerged as the front-runner to become the country’s next prime minister.
Incumbent Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned last week after six disastrous weeks in office. Graham Brady, the Conservative official responsible for the leadership contest, said a new prime minister would be in place by Friday.
Candidates to replace Truss have until 2pm (9am) on Monday to secure the support of 100 Conservative Party lawmakers to enter the race to become the new leader of the party and the country.
Johnson’s decision to withdraw from the race pits former Chancellor of the Exchequer against former House of Commons leader Penny Mordon.
If both candidates secure the support of 100 MPs, around 172,000 members of the Conservative Party will be able to elect a new leader in online voting.
As of Monday morning, Sunak was the only one of the pair to reach the required threshold of 100 nominations.
If Sunak is the only person to reach that many supporters, he will automatically become the new leader of the Conservative Party. The party’s parliamentary majority ensures that he will be the country’s next prime minister.
After days of speculation, Sunak officially announced he would be in the race on Sunday, writing on Twitter: “The United Kingdom is a great country, but we are facing a deep financial crisis. That’s why I stand as leader of the Conservative Party and your next Prime Minister. I want to fix our economy, unite our party and deliver for our country.
“There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of government I lead, and I will work every day to get the job done.”
Many of Johnson’s supporters blamed Mr Sunak for helping to oust Mr Johnson from office in July amid a series of scandals, but paid tribute to the former prime minister after he withdrew from the race on Sunday evening.
“Boris Johnson delivered Brexit and a better vaccine roll-out. He led our country through some of the toughest challenges we’ve ever faced, then took on Putin and his brutal war in Ukraine. We will always be grateful to him for that,” Sunak tweeted. “Although he has decided not to run for prime minister yet, I hope he will continue to contribute to public life at home and abroad.”
In a statement announcing his withdrawal from the race, Johnson claimed he had received the nominations of 102 MPs, although the number of lawmakers who publicly declared their support for him was far fewer. He swiped Sunak and Truss after failing to convince them to support his comeback.
“There’s a very good chance I’ll win the election with the Conservatives – I could be back in Downing Street on Friday,” Johnson said. “But in the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this may not be the right thing to do. If you don’t have a united party in parliament you cannot govern effectively.
“Though I approached Rishi (Sunak) and Penny (Mordaunt) – I hoped we could come together in the national interest – we could not work out a way to do this,” he added. . “So I’m afraid the best thing is that I don’t let my nomination go ahead and support whoever wins. I believe I have a lot to offer, but I’m afraid it’s not the right time.
Mordont announced his candidacy early Friday. She promised a “fresh start” for the UK, aiming to “unite our country, deliver on our pledges and win the next general election”. She works under the catchy hashtag “PM4PM”.
They also praised Johnson’s decision to withdraw from the race, saying the former prime minister had “put country before party and party before himself”.
“He worked to ensure the mandate and majority we now enjoy. We must make good use of it and I know he will work with us to do so,” she said on Twitter.
Mordaunt came third in the last leadership election and missed the opportunity to put members forward. Having secured 105 votes from MPs in the last election, she too is expected to break the new threshold and do well in party membership, partly due to her military credentials. Mordaunt is a reservist in the Royal Navy and has had a brief stint as Secretary of Defense.
The last time the Conservatives held a leadership contest following the demise of Johnson’s government, Truss came first, Sunack second and Mordaunt third. Johnson did not run.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labor Party, renewed his calls for a general election on Sunday after claiming people were “fed up to the teeth” with the Conservative leadership and the consequences of their government’s decisions.
“There is a choice to be made. We need a general election! Let the public decide… do they want this chaos to continue, or do they want stability under a Labor government?” Starmer asked during a BBC interview.