Former British finance minister Rishi Sunak has emerged as the frontrunner for the country’s next prime minister, after Boris Johnson dramatically dropped out of the race to be the leader of the Conservative Party.
The current prime minister, Liz Truss, resigned last week after just six weeks of disaster in office. Graham Brady, the Conservative Party official in charge of the leadership contest, said the new prime minister would be in office by Friday.
Candidates to replace Truss have until 2pm (9am ET) on Monday to secure the support of 100 Tory lawmakers to enter the race to become the party – and the country’s new leader -.
Johnson’s decision to withdraw from the contest leaves Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, vying against House of Commons leader Benny Mordaunt.
If both candidates win the support of 100 MPs, it will be up to the roughly 172,000 members of the Conservative Party to choose the new leader in an online vote.
As of Monday morning, Sunak was the only one of the pair to have met the necessary minimum of 100 nominations.
If Sunak remains the only one to reach this number of supporters, he will automatically become the new leader of the Conservative Party. The party’s parliamentary majority ensures that he will also become the country’s next prime minister.
After days of speculation, Sunak officially announced he would take part in the contest on Sunday, writing on Twitter: “The UK is a great country but we are facing a deep economic crisis. That’s why I stand to be the leader of the Conservative Party and your next Prime Minister. I want to fix our economy, unite our party and help our country.”
“There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of government I lead and I will work day in and day out to get the job done.”
Many Johnson supporters blamed Sunak for helping to oust Johnson from power in July following a series of scandals, but on Sunday night he praised the former prime minister after he withdrew from the race.
“Boris Johnson delivered Brexit and the great vaccine launch. He led our country through some of the toughest challenges we’ve ever faced, then faced Putin and his barbaric war in Ukraine. We will always be grateful to him for that,” Sunak tweeted. “Although he has decided not to run for prime minister again, I really hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad.”
In his statement announcing his withdrawal from the race, Johnson claimed to have secured the nominations of 102 MPs, although the number of MPs who publicly declared their support for him was much lower. And he took a hit at Sunak and Truss after he failed to convince them to support his return.
“There is a very good chance that I will be successful in the election with members of the Conservative Party – and that I will indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday,” Johnson said. “But in the course of recent days I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that this simply would not be the right thing to do. You cannot govern effectively unless you have a united party in Parliament.”
“And although I reached out to both Rishi (Sunak) and Benny (Mordaunt) – because I was hoping we could work together in the national interest – we unfortunately could not find a way to do so,” he added. . “So I’m afraid the best thing is that I’m not letting my candidacy go ahead and committing my support to whoever succeeds. I think I have a lot to offer but I’m afraid this is simply not the time.”
Mordaunt was the first to announce her candidacy on Friday. She promised a “new beginning” for the UK, with the goal of “unifying our country, delivering on our pledges and winning the next general election”. It also operates under a catchy hashtag: “PM4PM”.
She also praised Johnson for his decision to withdraw from the competition, saying the former prime minister “puts state before party, party before self.”
He worked to secure the mandate and majority we now enjoy. “We have to put it to good use, and I know he will work with us to do that,” she said on Twitter.
Mordaunt came third in the last leadership election, narrowly losing to be placed in front of members. Having received 105 MPs’ votes in the last election, she is also expected to cross the new threshold and do well among party members, in part due to her military credentials. Mordaunt is a reservist in the Royal Navy and served for a short time as Secretary of State for Defense.
The last time the Conservatives held a leadership race – after the demise of the Johnson government – Truss came first, Sunak second and Mordaunt third. Johnson did not run.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labor Party, renewed his calls for a general election on Sunday, after claiming that people are “tired to their back teeth” of 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 to continue in this utter chaos, or do they want stability under a Labor government?” asked Starmer during a BBC interview.