Former UK finance minister Rishi Sunak has emerged as the front-runner for the country’s next prime minister after Boris Johnson sharply dropped out of the Conservative leadership race.
The current prime minister, Liz Truss, resigned last week after just six weeks in office. Graham Brady, the Conservative official in charge of the leadership race, said a new prime minister would be in place on Friday.
The candidate to replace Truss must have the support of 100 Conservative MPs by 2 p.m. (9 a.m. ET) on Monday to run as the party’s and the country’s new leader.
Johnson’s decision to drop out of the race pits former chancellor Sunak against Commons leader Penny Mordout.
If both candidates are backed by 100 MPs, the new leader will be chosen by an online vote of around 172,000 Conservative Party members.
As of Monday morning, Sunak was the only one of the two to meet the requisite threshold of 100 nominations.
If Sunak remains the only one to reach that number, he will automatically become the new leader of the Conservative Party. The party’s majority in parliament ensures he will also be the country’s next prime minister.
After days of speculation, Sunak officially announced that he would play on Sunday, tweeting: “Britain is a great country but we are facing a deep economic crisis. This is why I have Qualify to be Conservative leader and your next prime minister. I’m going to fix our economy, unite our party and contribute to our country.
“I will lead all levels of government with integrity, professionalism and accountability, and I will work day in and day out to get the job done.”
Many of Johnson’s supporters have accused Sunak of helping to oust Johnson in July after a series of scandals, but on Sunday night he paid tribute to the former prime minister after dropping out of the race.
“Boris Johnson delivered Brexit and a massive vaccine rollout. He took our country through some of the toughest challenges we’ve ever faced, then with Putin and his brutal war in Ukraine The contest started. We will always be grateful to him,” Sunak tweeted. “While he has decided not to run for prime minister, I sincerely hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad.”
In a statement announcing his withdrawal from the race, Johnson claimed to have secured the nomination of 102 MPs, although publicly backing him was much smaller. He lashed out at Sunak and Truss after failing to convince them to back his comeback.
“I have a good chance of winning the election for a member of the Conservative Party – and indeed I could be back in Downing Street on Friday,” Johnson said. Not the right thing to do. You cannot govern effectively unless you have a unified party in parliament.”
“Although I’ve reached out to Rishi (Sunak) and Penny (Mordaunt) – because I hope we can come together for the good of the country – unfortunately we can’t find a way to do that,” he said. added. “So I fear the best thing is that I will not allow my nomination to move forward and pledge to support whoever succeeds. I am sure I have a lot to offer, but I fear this is simply not the right time.”
Mordaunt was the first to announce his candidacy on Friday. She pledged to “start over” for Britain, aiming to “unite our country, deliver on our promises and win the next general election”. She also runs under a catchy hashtag: “PM4PM”.
She also praised Johnson’s decision to drop out of the race, saying the former prime minister “put the country above the party and the party above the self”.
“He worked hard to ensure the empowerment and majority we have now. We should make good use of it and I know he will do it with us,” she tweeted.
Mordaunt came third in the last leadership election and nearly missed the chance to be put in front of the members. In the last election, she received 105 MPs’ votes, and she is also expected to pass the new threshold and excel among party members, in part because of her military credentials. Mordaunt was a Royal Navy reservist who briefly served as Minister of Defence.
The last time the Conservative Party held a leadership contest – after the fall of Johnson’s government – Truss came first, Sunak second and Mordault third. Johnson didn’t run.
The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, renewed his call for a general election on Sunday, after claiming people were “tired” of the consequences of decisions made by the Conservative leadership and his government.
“There is a choice to be made. We need a general election! Let the public decide … do they want to continue this total chaos or do they want stability under a Labour government?” Starmer asked in an interview with the BBC.