Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak lead the race to be the next UK Prime Minister

  • No candidate has yet announced their intention to run
  • Johnson’s doubts could reach the goal of 100 parliamentary 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.

After Truss resigned on Thursday, ending her six weeks in power, those who want to replace her have been trying to find the 100 Tory MPs needed to battle the competition that the party hopes will reset its faltering fortunes.

With the Conservatives on the brink of collapse in the upcoming national election, according to opinion polls, the race to become Britain’s fifth prime minister in six years continues.

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The winner will be announced either Monday or Friday next week.

In what may be an unusual comeback, Johnson, who was ousted by lawmakers a little more than three months ago, has been running in positions alongside Sunak to be crowned the next prime minister.

Conservative lawmaker Paul Bristow said of Johnson on LBC Radio: “I think he has a track record of turning things around. He can turn things around again. I’m sure my colleagues hear that message loud and clear.”

“Boris Johnson can win the next general election,” he said.

Johnson, who has left office comparing himself to a Romanian dictator who has twice taken power to stave off crises, may struggle to reach 100 votes after his three-year term was marred by scandals and allegations of misconduct.

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One of his former advisers, who no longer speaks to Johnson and has asked not to be identified, said he was unlikely to hit the mark, having alienated dozens of Conservatives during his scandal-ridden tenure.

The Financial Times, which has called for new elections, said Boris’ return would be “comical”.

Will Walden, who also previously worked with Johnson, said the former prime minister was coming back from vacation and was doing the sounding.

He told the BBC: “The country needs a serious and great leader. Boris had a chance, let’s act. I think that’s not what the Conservatives will do, they may re-elect him.”

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said he supports Boris, tweeting his support using the hashtag #Borisorbust #.

The contest began on Thursday, hours after Truss stood in front of her Downing Street office to say she couldn’t go on.

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

In third place is Penny Mordaunt, a former defense secretary who is popular with party members. None of them officially announced their candidacy.

gears resign

Truss resigned after the shortest and most chaotic tenure of any British prime minister after her economic program shattered the country’s reputation for financial stability and left many people poorer.

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Truss said she could no longer implement her program after her economic plan turbulent markets, forcing the new finance minister to change course after he sacked her closest political ally.

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

Some conservative lawmakers hope the race to replace her will be quick and simple, and are urging hopefuls to rally around one candidate to lessen the pain of another agonizing contest.

Valuable in his warnings that Truss’s fiscal plan would threaten the economy, Sunak proved very unpopular with some party members after he helped spark the summer rebellion against Johnson.

Mordaunt is seen as a new pair of hands largely untainted by previous administrations. But it’s also untested, and so far, it lags behind Sunak and Johnson in getting supporters.

The next leader faces a tough economic situation, as he inherits an economy heading into recession, inflation above 10%, rising interest rates, a labor shortage and a squeezed cost of living.

Data published on Friday showed that British shoppers sharply curbed their spending and put their confidence levels near record lows, while worse-than-expected public borrowing numbers highlighted economic challenges ahead.

Whoever takes the helm of the party also has a mountain to climb to try to restore or renew the reputation of the Conservative Party, which has a large majority in Parliament and does not need to call a nationwide election for another two years.

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

“The problem for the Conservatives is that their brand as a party that can take care of the economy … is now very bad, and it may be very difficult to recover in a couple of years.”

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Writing by Elizabeth Piper and Kylie McClellan; Additional reporting by Movija M, Sachin Ravikumar and William Schomberg; Editing by Toby Chopra and Catherine Evans

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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