Sunak favourite to be UK PM after Johnson drops comeback bid

  • Johnson withdrew from the competition
  • Sunak officially announces that he will run
  • The first ballot will be held on Monday
  • Sunak clearly leads the other contestant Mordaunt

LONDON, Oct 23 (Reuters) – Rishi Sunak looked poised to become Britain’s next prime minister after Boris Johnson withdrew from the race on Sunday, saying that while he had enough support to make it to the final vote, he needed the country and the Conservative Party to unite. .

Johnson had rushed home from a holiday in the Caribbean and entered Monday’s contest to replace Liz Truss, the woman who forced him to resign in September amid scandals, seeking the support of 100 MPs.

He said he had secured the support of 102 MPs and could have gone “back to Downing Street”, but had failed to persuade Sunak or fellow contender Penny Mordaunt to come together “in the national interest”.

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“I believe I have a lot to offer but I’m afraid it’s not the right time,” Johnson said late Sunday.

The former prime minister had the public support of just under 60 Conservative MPs as of Sunday, half of Sunak’s nearly 150.

Sterling rose more than half a percent against the dollar in early trade in Asia.

Johnson’s statement clears the way for his arch-rival, 42-year-old former finance minister Sunak, to become prime minister as soon as Monday. If confirmed, he would replace Truss, who was forced to resign after she launched an economic program that roiled financial markets.

According to the rules, if only one candidate gets the support of 100 Conservative MPs, he will be appointed prime minister on Monday.

If the two candidates pass the threshold, they will go on to a party membership vote, with the winner announced on Friday, days before new finance minister Jeremy Hunt reveals the state of the country’s economy in a budget plan to be announced. On 31 October.

There were fears that Johnson would return to Downing Street with the support of party members and leave the party badly divided with the support of a majority of lawmakers in parliament. Hunt announced his support for Sunak late Sunday.

Some Johnson supporters may switch to Mordaunt, who has presented himself as a unity candidate, but many immediately switch to Sunak. A source close to the Mordaunt campaign said the former defense minister would continue in the race.

“She is a unifying candidate who can probably hold the wings of the Conservative Party together,” the source said.

Tear yourself away

Johnson has dominated British politics since becoming Mayor of London in 2008 and became the face of the Brexit vote in 2016. While he led the Conservative Party in 2019, he was ousted in a landslide election in 2019. Later with the rebellion of his ministers.

Sunak said he hoped Johnson would continue to contribute to public life “at home and abroad.”

A Sunak supporter, who asked not to be named, said his main reaction was relief because “the party would have torn itself apart” if Johnson had won.

Another Conservative MP, Lucy Allen, said on Twitter: “I supported Boris for PM, but I think he has done the right thing for the country.”

Other Johnson supporters immediately jumped on board.

Cabinet Office Minister Nadeem Zahawi, who minutes earlier published an article praising Johnson on the Daily Telegraph website, said “a day is a long time in politics”.

“Rishi is immensely talented, he will command a strong majority in the Parliamentary Conservative Party and he will have my full support and loyalty,” he said.

Earlier, several Conservative MPs who generally back Johnson backed the move, saying the country needed a period of stability after months of turmoil that has generated headlines – and raised alarm – around the world.

Johnson still faces a Privileges Committee inquiry into whether he misled Parliament over Downing Street parties during the COVID-19 lockdown. If found guilty, he could be forced to resign or be suspended from office.

Sunak first came to national attention when, aged 39, he became finance minister under Johnson just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit Britain, developing a furlough scheme to support millions through multiple lockdowns.

“I have served as your chancellor, helping our economy through its most difficult times,” Sunak said in a statement on Sunday. “The challenges we face now are even greater. But the opportunities – if we make the right choices – are unprecedented.”

If elected, Sunak will be the first Prime Minister of Indian origin in the United Kingdom.

His family moved to Britain in the 1960s, a time when many people from Britain’s former colonies came to help rebuild the country after World War II.

After graduating from Oxford University, he later attended Stanford University where he met his wife Akshata Murthy, whose father is Indian billionaire NR Narayan Murthy, founder of outsourcing company Infosys Limited.

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Written by Kate Holton; Additional reporting by William Schomberg and Maria Ponezath; Editing by Toby Chopra and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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