Next UK PM: Sunak moves closer after Johnson balks

LONDON: Former Head of Treasury Rishi Sunak is the hot favorite to become Britain’s next prime minister days, if not hours, after former leader Boris Johnson dropped out of the Conservative Party leadership race.
After the resignation of Liz Truss last week the ruling party chose Britain’s third prime minister this year at a time of political turmoil and severe economic hardship.
Sunak, 42, is the only candidate with the confirmed support of more than 100 lawmakers, the number needed to run for office.
Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt has far fewer expressions of support, but aims to reach the threshold by the close of nominations at 2 p.m.
If Mordaunt doesn’t reach 100 nominations, Sunak will win by acclamation and could move into 10 Downing St. by Monday night.
If the two make it to the ballot, the 357 Tory lawmakers will hold an indicative vote on Monday to show their preference.
If neither later gives up, the choice will fall to the party’s 172,000 members across the country, with a result announced on Friday.
Mordaunt will come under intense pressure to step down and not force a member vote if Sunak is the clear frontrunner with lawmakers.
Home Secretary Grant Shapps, a Sunak supporter, said the former Treasury chief did not believe he had the contest “in the bag”.
“He’s talking to colleagues this morning, he’s working very hard to attract supporters who may have been with Boris Johnson before,” Shapps said.
“But look, I’ll let Penny handle it, she’s a great colleague.” Let’s see what happens.”
Sunak, who was a finalist framework in this summer’s Conservative leadership race to replace Johnson, has promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability” if he forms a government – a contrast to the chaos that has consumed the last two prime ministers.
Johnson dramatically exited the race on Sunday evening, ending a short-lived and high-profile bid to return to the premiership from which he was ousted just over three months ago amid ethics scandals.
Johnson spent the weekend trying to drum up support from fellow Conservative lawmakers after returning from vacation in the Caribbean.
Late Sunday, he said he had the support of 102 colleagues. But he was far behind Sunak and said he had concluded that “you can’t govern effectively if you don’t have a united party in parliament”.
The prospect of a Johnson return had thrown the already divided Conservative Party into further turmoil.
He led the party to a landslide election victory in 2019, but his premiership was clouded by money and ethics scandals that eventually became too much for the party to bear.
In his statement on Sunday, Johnson insisted he was “well positioned to secure a Conservative victory” in the next national election, due by 2024. And he said he would likely have won a poll of members of the Conservative Party against any of its rivals.
“But over the past few days I’ve unfortunately come to the conclusion that it just wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” he said.
He hinted he might be back, however, saying: “I believe I have a lot to offer but I’m afraid it’s just not the right time.”
Truss resigned on Thursday after a turbulent 45 days in office, admitting she could not implement her botched tax-cut economic agenda, which she was forced to abandon after sparking fury within her party and weeks of financial market turmoil.
Sunak, who served as Treasury chief from 2020 until this summer, led the collapse of Britain’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
He resigned in July to protest Johnson’s leadership.
The Conservative Party turmoil is fueling demands for a national election. Under the UK parliamentary system, there is no need for one until the end of 2024, although the government has the power to call one earlier.
Currently, this seems unlikely. Opinion polls indicate an election would spell disaster for the Tories, with the centre-left Labor party winning a large majority.


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