Rishi Sunak appeared to become Britain’s next prime minister after Boris Johnson withdrew from the contest on Sunday, saying that while he had enough support to make the final vote, he realized the country and the Conservative Party needed unity.
Johnson had run home from a vacation in the Caribbean to try to get the backing of 100 lawmakers to enter Monday’s contest to replace Liz Truss, the woman who succeeded him in September after he was forced to retire. because of a series of scandals.
He said he had won the support of 102 lawmakers and that he could have been “back in Downing Street”, but that he had persuaded neither Sunak nor other contender Penny Mordaunt to come together “in the national interest”.
“I believe I have a lot to offer, but I’m afraid this just isn’t the right time,” Johnson said late on Sunday.
The former prime minister had received public support from just under 60 conservative lawmakers on Sunday, well over half of the nearly 150 statements of support Sunak had received.
Sterling rose more than half a cent against the dollar during early trading in Asia.
Johnson’s statement likely paves the way for his arch-rival, 42-year-old former finance minister Sunak, to become prime minister, possibly as early as Monday.
If confirmed, he would replace Truss who was forced to resign after she launched an economic program that sparked turmoil in financial markets.
Under the rules, if just one candidate gets the support of 100 Conservative lawmakers, they will be appointed prime minister this Monday.
If two candidates cross the threshold, they will advance to a party membership vote, with the winner announced Friday, just days before new Treasury Secretary Jeremy Hunt exposes the state of the country’s finances in a budget plan to be released soon. will be released on October 31.
That had raised concerns that Johnson would return to Downing Street with the backing of party members, not a majority of legislators in parliament, leaving the party badly divided. Hunt declared his support for Sunak late on Sunday.
Some Johnson supporters could switch to Mordaunt, who has presented himself as the candidate for the unit, but many immediately switched to Sunak. A source close to the Mordaunt campaign said the former defense minister would go ahead with the match.
“She is the unifying candidate likely to hold the wings of the Conservative Party together,” the source said.
Torn apart myself
Johnson has loomed large in British politics since he became Mayor of London in 2008 and became the face of the Brexit vote in 2016. While leading the Conservative Party to a landslide election in 2019, he was expelled from it for just three years. later by a revolt 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 response was a relief because if Johnson had won, the “party would have torn itself apart”.
Another conservative lawmaker Lucy Allan said on Twitter: “I have supported Boris as prime minister, but I think he did the right thing for the country.”
Other Johnson backers immediately jumped aboard.
Cabinet Minister Nadhim Zahawi, who had published an article on the Daily Telegraph website just minutes earlier praising Johnson, said “a day is a long time in politics”.
“Rishi is immensely talented, will have a strong majority in the parliamentary Conservative Party and will have my full support and loyalty,” he said.
Previously, many of the conservative lawmakers who normally backed Johnson have turned their backs on Sunak, saying the country needed a period of stability after months of unrest that has made headlines – and alarms – around the world.
Johnson is also still facing an investigation by a privilege committee into whether he misled parliament about Downing Street parties amid COVID-19 lockdowns. He could be forced to resign or be suspended if found guilty.
Sunak first came to national attention when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer under Johnson at the age of 39, just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Britain and was developing a furlough scheme to support millions of people during several lockdowns.
“I have served as your chancellor and helped guide our economy through the most difficult times,” Sunak said in a statement on Sunday. “The challenges we now face are even greater. But the opportunities – if we make the right choice – are phenomenal.”
If elected, Sunak would be the UK’s first Prime Minister of Indian descent.
His family migrated to Britain in the 1960s, a time when many people from Britain’s former colonies arrived to 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 Narayana Murthy, founder of outsourcing giant Infosys Ltd.