Rishi Sunak is set to become the UK’s third prime minister this year after Boris Johnson dropped out of the Conservative party leadership race.
However, Johnson concluded that “this is simply not the right time” giving his former chancellor Sunak’s campaign to be leader a massive boost given their respective popularity among Tory party members.
Only Penny Mordaunt now stands in Sunak’s way but she needs to the support of 100 Conservative MPs in order to the vote to go to the 200,000 Conservative party members who elected Liz Truss PM just over six weeks ago.
Mordaunt has the public backing of only 25 Tory MPs (as at 10.30pm, Sunday) and has until 2pm tomorrow to win over 75 more. If she fails to reach the target, Sunak – who has the public backing of more than 140 MPs – will be announced leader and prime minister tomorrow (Monday, October 24) without a members’ vote.
It will be a tough task for Mordaunt who is from the more moderate wing of the Tory party – “unlike some of” the Johnson backers that she will have to “hoover up”, the Telegraph reports.
On Sunday it emerged that Mordaunt refused Johnson’s request that she drop out of the race and back him.
PA Media reported that “sources close to the Leader of the House of Commons” Mordaunt turned Johnson down and warned him that her supporters would back Sunak if she did withdraw from the leadership race.
Johnson reached out to Sunak and Mordaunt
Sky News’ political correspondent Liz Bates writes that Johnson’s withdrawal raises a big question as to whether his “claim that he had those 100 backers in the Conservative party was ever true.”
The disgraced former PM – who is set to face the privileges committee in November over allegations he misled parliament – admitted he was “attracted” to a comeback bid because of the support from party colleagues but added, “you can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament”.
Johnson said he “reached out” to Sunak and Mordaunt to try and get them all to work together in the national interest and that a “general election would be a further disastrous distraction” when the government needs to focus on “the economic pressures faced by families”.
He made it clear that he still harbours ambitions to return to Downing Street, continuing: “I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 – and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations, including a proposer and a seconder, and I could put my nomination in tomorrow.
“There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members – and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.
“But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.
“And though I have reached out to both Rishi and Penny – because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest – we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this.”
Johnson’s decision follows the switch of several of his most trusted and long-time allies to support Sunak. Eyebrows were raised when former home secretary Suella Braverman and the ERG’s Steve Baker gave their public backing to Sunak on Sunday.
In only his second tweet since the Queen died on September 8, Sunak posted on Sunday night that “we will always be grateful to” Johnson for delivering Brexit, the vaccine and leading “our country through some of the toughest challenges we have ever faced, and then took on Putin and his barbaric war in Ukraine.”
Sunak added: “Although he has decided not to run for PM again, I truly hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad.”
Meanwhile, Liz Truss has been holding back to back parties at chequers this weekend to say thank you to ministers and aides who worked for her during the 44 day tenure. The shortest serving PM in British history is yet to announce whether she will accept the £115,000 annual allowance granted to former PMs to help them fund their public duties, according to the Times. COntroversy has been sparked that Truss will also be able to reward backers because she is entitled to award peerages and titles in her resignation honours list.