As Boris Johnson struggles to win support for a comeback bid as UK prime minister, Sunak enters the race

  • Sunak officially announced his candidacy
  • The first voting will be held on Monday
  • Johnson’s supporters say he can vote
  • Sunak is a clear leader among lawmakers

LONDON, Oct 23 (Reuters) – Boris Johnson struggled on Sunday to win enough support to make a shock comeback as Britain’s prime minister after key figures on the Conservative Party’s right surrounded Rishi Sunak, who he accused of betraying him. .

Sunak, a 42-year-old former finance minister, confirmed on Sunday that he would run to replace Liz Truss, pledging to tackle the country’s “deep economic crisis” with “integrity, professionalism and accountability”.

“I want to fix our economy, unify our party, and deliver for our country,” Sunak, accused by Johnson’s supporters of ending his previous three-year term, said.

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Sunak resigned from the cabinet in July, sparking an unprecedented ministerial revolt against Johnson.

The declaration hands a clear lead to Johnson, who returned from a vacation in the Caribbean to secure the support of 100 lawmakers to come to a vote on Monday.

During his previous tenure in Downing Street, he was supported by various sections of the party, including the right wing that championed Britain’s exit from the European Union.

This time, however, many previous supporters have told Johnson he should step aside, citing the country’s need for stability after Truss’ chaotic six weeks in power sparked turmoil in financial markets and hit the value of the pound.

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

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“This is not the time for Boris’s style,” Steve Baker, an influential lawmaker on the right of the party that supports Sunak, told Sky News. “Voting concessions causes trouble, and I’m afraid Boris is guaranteed a disaster.”

Britain was plunged into another leadership battle after Truss was forced to leave because of his radical economic policies, which raised borrowing costs and mortgage rates at a time when energy and food bills were rising.

Sunak, Johnson and former defense minister Benny Mordant will become the country’s fifth prime minister in six years.

Opposition Leader Keir Starmer said the battle over the Conservatives was a “ridiculous, chaotic circus”, and his focus was on millions of Britons struggling to pay their bills.

The Labor leader, along with other opposition parties, has called for national elections.

Deeply unpopular

The prospect of Johnson’s return has been a polarizing issue for many in the divided Conservative Party, while his popularity among voters had plummeted before his ouster.

For some lawmakers, he is a vote-winner, drawing nationwide appeal through his popular image and dynamic brand of optimism. To others he is a toxic figure who will fail to unify the party and thus undermine efforts to build a stable leadership to calm jittery financial markets.

Foreign Secretary James wisely endorsed Johnson on Sunday, saying he had “learned lessons from his time at No 10 and will ensure he is focused on the needs of the country from day one”.

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However, Sunak continued to extend his lead among lawmakers. Sky News put its support on 140 announcements, with Johnson on 59. About 130 lawmakers have not declared publicly.

If elected, Sunak would be the first Indian-origin Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

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

After graduating from Oxford University, he later went to Stanford University, where he met his wife Akshata Murthy, whose father was Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy, founder of outsourcing company Infosys Ltd.

Sunak first came to national attention when he became finance minister under Johnson at the age of 39, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Britain, creating a furlough program to support millions through multiple lockdowns.

“I have served as your chancellor to help guide our economy through 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 unique.”

Although polls show Sunak very popular in the country, he is deeply unpopular with large sections of party members after blaming him for bringing down Johnson.

Under the rules of the accelerated contest, if only one candidate gets the support of 100 conservative lawmakers, they will be appointed prime minister on Monday.

If two candidates pass the threshold, they will go to a vote of party members, with the winner announced on Friday, just days before Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt delivers a stark report on the country’s finances on October 31.

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The Telegraph reported that Johnson would not remove Hunt.

Johnson’s supporters say he has the support of more than 100 lawmakers, but many are silent because they still have government jobs.

A supporter, James Duttridge, said Johnson spoke to his supporters on Sunday and was “in good form” and smartly dressed.

None of the three candidates has yet given any details on what policies they would introduce if they became prime minister.

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Report by Kate Holden; Editing by Paul Chandle and Toby Chopra

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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