Sunak leads the race for the British leader; Johnson has yet to declare


Britain’s former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak was the favorite on Sunday in the Conservative Party’s race to replace Liz Truss as prime minister, as he won the public backing of more than 100 Tory lawmakers to edge out his top two rivals – ousted former prime minister Boris Johnson and ex-minister Penny Mordaunt.

But widespread uncertainty remained after British media reported that Sunak held late-night talks with Johnson on Saturday, and speculation mounted that the pair could strike a deal to unite the fractured ruling party after being left behind reeling from Truss’ rapid fall.

The Conservative Party has ordered a contest that aims to finalize the nominations on Monday and install a new prime minister – his third this year – within a week.

Sunak, 42, confirmed on Sunday that he is running in the leadership race. He has the backing of at least 124 Tory lawmakers, according to unofficial counts from the BBC and Sky News. That’s well ahead of the 100 nominations required to qualify.

« There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at all levels of government that I lead and I will work day in and day out to get the job done, » Sunak said in a statement.

Mordaunt has garnered public support from about 24 lawmakers, while Johnson, who has not said whether he is running, has about 50 so far. Lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC on Sunday that he had spoken to Johnson and « he’s clearly going to stand up. »

The return of Johnson, 58, who was forced out of office just weeks ago by a series of ethics scandals, has divided conservatives and thrown unpredictability into the race. Supporters say he is a winner in the vote and has enough support from lawmakers, but many critics warn that another Johnson government would spell disaster for the party and the country.

Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, a former Johnson supporter and influential Conservative Party politician, has warned a Johnson return would be ‘guaranteed disaster’ as he is still under investigation to find out if he lied to parliament while in office, which could lead to his suspension as a lawmaker.

« Now is not the time for Boris and his style, » Baker told Sky News on Sunday. « What we can’t do is have him as prime minister in circumstances where he’s doomed to implode, toppling the whole government inside and we just can’t start over. »

Truss resigned after a turbulent 45 days on Thursday, admitting she could not deliver on her economic tax-cutting package, which she was forced to abandon after sparking fury within her party and weeks of turmoil in the financial markets.

Dozens of Britain’s 357 Conservative lawmakers have yet to publicly say who they support to replace Truss.

Mordaunt and Johnson – if he confirms his candidacy – have until Monday afternoon to collect 100 nominations. If all three reach that threshold, lawmakers will vote to eliminate one, then hold an indicative vote on the bottom two. The 172,000 party members will then be able to decide between the two finalists in an online vote. The new leader must be chosen by Friday.


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