Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak touted as the UK’s next Prime Minister

  • No candidate has yet announced their intention to run
  • Johnson’s doubts could reach the target of 100 nominations
  • Sunak is a bookmaker’s favourite
  • The winner will be the fifth British Prime Minister in six years

LONDON (Reuters) – Boris Johnson and his former chancellor, Rishi Sunak, were leading potential contenders to replace British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Friday as candidates garnered support to become leaders of the Conservative Party in a fast-track competition.

Truss, handpicked by party members to succeed Johnson after his deputies ousted him in July, resigned herself on Thursday after six turbulent weeks in power.

Those who want to replace her must secure 100 nominations from Conservative Party MPs by Monday to run a contest the party hopes will reset its faltering fortunes.

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With opinion polls suggesting the Conservative Party would be on the verge of being wiped out if a national election were held now, the race would be the fifth British prime minister in six years. The elections are not scheduled for two years.

The winner will be announced next Monday or Friday.

In what would be an unusual comeback, Johnson, who remains popular with party members, was touted alongside Sunak as a potential candidate.

“He can turn it around again. I’m sure my colleagues hear this message loud and clear,” Conservative Representative Paul Bristow told LBC Radio. “Boris Johnson Could Win the Next General Election”.

But Johnson, who has left office comparing himself to a Romanian dictator who took power twice to fight crises, may not reach the threshold of 100 nominations after his three-year premiership was marred by scandals and allegations of misconduct.

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The Financial Times said Boris’ return would be “farcical”.

One of his former advisers, who no longer speaks to Johnson and asked not to be identified, said he was unlikely to reach the goal, after he fired dozens of Tory MPs.

Will Walden, who also previously worked for Johnson, said the former leader was returning from vacation and doing the sounding.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeted his support using the hashtag “#Borisorbust”.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has disqualified himself from running and said he was leaning toward supporting Johnson, who led the party to a large majority in the 2019 national election.

Sunak, the former Goldman Sachs analyst who became finance minister as the COVID-19 pandemic reached Europe and was the runner-up for Truss in the summer driving contest, is the bookmaker’s favorite, followed by Johnson.

Ranked third was Penny Mordaunt, a former defense secretary popular with party members who came third last time. None of them officially announced their candidacy.

A Reuters tally of Conservative lawmakers making public statements of support puts Snack on 54 supporters, Johnson on 29th and Mordaunt on 16th.

Instability

Truss, Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister, resigned after investors rejected her economic plans, sending the pound soaring and raising borrowing costs, forcing a new finance minister to change course after he sacked her closest political ally.

The sight of another unpopular prime minister on Thursday delivering his resignation speech in Downing Street – and the start of a new leadership race – highlights just how volatile British politics have been since the 2016 Brexit vote.

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Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, said Brexit has caused instability in Britain.

“I hope they will settle down soon because even if they are not family members anymore, they are friend and neighbours. We need them and they need us too,” he told reporters upon arrival for an EU summit in Brussels.

The Conservative Party has a large majority in Parliament and could ignore calls for an election, but opposition parties, some newspapers and even a few of their MPs said the voter’s opinion should now be given.

Labor leader Keir Starmer said: “The Conservatives cannot respond to the recent chaos by once again tapping their fingers and shuffling the people at the top without the consent of the British people.”

“They don’t have a mandate to put the country to another trial.”

Some conservative lawmakers have urged colleagues to rally around one candidate to reduce bruising.

Sunak, who has warned that Truss’s fiscal plan threatens the economy, remains unpopular with some party members after he helped spark a rebellion against Johnson.

Mordaunt is seen as a fresh face, largely untainted by previous administrations but also untested.

The next leader will inherit an economy heading into recession, with high interest rates and inflation over 10%, leaving millions facing cost-of-living pressures.

Friday’s polls showed British shoppers have sharply curbed their spending and put their confidence levels near record lows, while worse-than-expected public borrowing numbers highlighted economic challenges ahead.

A spokeswoman for Truss said work was continuing on a financial plan due to be determined on October 31, but that it would be up to her successor to decide whether to proceed with it.

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Whoever takes office also has a mountain to climb to restore the party’s reputation.

“Whether a change of leader will be enough to make conservatives have electoral credibility is highly debatable,” political scientist John Curtis told LBC.

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Writing by Elizabeth Piper and Kylie McClellan; Additional reporting by Movija M, Sachin Ravikumar, Alistair Smoot and William Schomberg in London and John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Toby Chopra and Catherine Evans

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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