The morning after British Prime Minister Liz Truss announced that her brief spell in Downing Street would come to an end, former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who battled Ms. Truss for the post in August, appeared to lead the list of possible new occupants of No.10 Downing Street.
Other candidates in the reckoning on Friday were former Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who was ousted for a series of scandals during his tenure and replaced by Ms. Truss — and Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace ended speculation about whether he would run by pulling himself out of the race.
Given that each contender needs at least a 100 of the 357 Tory MPs backing them by 1400 hrs on Monday, no more than three candidates can make the shortlist. Mr. Sunak, who was the favourite, by a sizeable margin, according to bookmakers’ odds on Friday morning, also had the backing of 57 MPs on Friday afternoon, as per The Times, which was tracking publicly declared support for candidates. In second place was Mr. Johnson, with 37 MPs behind him, followed by Ms. Mordaunt, who had the support of 18 MPs as of this writing.
The 42-year-old Mr. Sunak, who is of Indian descent and the child of migrants from East Africa, has the advantage of having criticised, in August, Ms. Truss’s plans to cut taxes as bad for the economy — a view that the markets appeared to agree within recent weeks. He is however also seen as “disloyal” having pulled the rug out from under Mr. Johnson’s feet in July.
Mr. Johnson, who on Friday afternoon was returning from a holiday in the Caribbean, is a controversial candidate as it was his resignation that set off the scramble to find a new leader (Ms. Truss). He is also currently under investigation by a parliamentary committee regarding whether he lied to MPs about breaking COVID lockdown rules. If found guilty he could be suspended or even lose his seat.
Foreign Office minister Jesse Norman tweeted that choosing Mr. Johnson would be an “absolutely catastrophic decision”. The Observer reported Tory MP Andrew Bridgen as saying that Mr. Johnson could get the backing of 100 MPs. However, Mr. Bridgen also reportedly urged MPs not to support Mr. Johnson as he would become “emboldened” and “there would be no limits” on his actions.
Mr. Wallace said that for the moment he “would lean” towards Boris Johnson keeping in mind who “could win the next election” and because of the “issue of the mandate” [Boris Johnson is the only one of the possibilities who has won a general election]. Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg also said he was backing Mr. Johnson.
Leader of the Lib Dems (Liberal Democrats), Ed Davey, said that Mr. Johnson had “lied on an industrial scale” and asked if the Tories were “suffering from memory loss” in reconsidering a candidate they themselves had ousted.
The Sunak and Johnson teams were in talks, The Telegraph had reported, but neither Mr. Sunak nor Mr. Johnson had officially declared that they were running.
Some 1,60,000 Conservative party members will vote next week for one of two leading candidates. A winner is expected to be announced on Friday, October 28.