British Conservative politician Rishi Sunak reached the minimum threshold to run for party leader late Friday as former Prime Minister Boris Johnson pursued a daring comeback.
Cabinet Member Penny Mordaunt was the first to formally announce her candidacy after the UK ruling party was forced into a second leadership contest following Prime Minister Liz Truss’ dramatic resignation.
“Honored to be the 100th Tory MP to support #Ready4Rishi,” tweeted senior backbencher Tobias Ellwood, while other Sunak supporters also said he had crossed the barrier.
Sunak automatically becomes party leader and prime minister if his opponents fail to win 100 nominations from their fellow Tory MPs as well.
Security Secretary Tom Tugendhat, who himself ran for leader after Johnson was ousted in July, made a thinly veiled appeal to the scandal-tainted ex-leader to stay out of the race.
“This is not a time for political games, to settle scores or to look backwards,” Tugendhat said while also endorsing Sunak.
Neither Sunak nor Johnson have publicly stated that they are active.
But Johnson broke off a Caribbean vacation to participate in the accelerated contest, in which Tory MPs will vote Monday ahead of a possible online vote for party members next week.
James Duddridge, one of Johnson’s closest allies in parliament, said he had been in touch with his old boss via WhatsApp.
“He said… ‘We’re going to do this. I’m ready,'” the MP said, as a Sky News reporter posted a photo of Johnson apparently seen on a flight home from the Dominican Republic.
– ‘New start’ –
The Sunak and Johnson camps are reportedly seeking talks to see if there is room for a unity deal, although there has been a lot of bad blood since the former prime minister’s defence.
Mordaunt, who just missed the final round after Johnson retired, said she was looking for “a fresh start, a united party and leadership in the national interest”.
But polling agency YouGov found that three in five voters now want an early general election, in line with opposition party demands, as Britons grapple with a worsening cost of living crisis.
Labor and other parties argue that only elections can end the months of political chaos that ensued when Johnson himself was forced to leave after a non-stop personal and political scandal.
In the resulting contest, Truss won the support of just over 80,000 Tory party members, beating Sunak, who rightly warned that her right-wing program of debt-fueled tax cuts would crash the economy.
Truss announced on Thursday that he was stepping down after just 44 frenetic days in office.
– ‘Questions to be answered’ –
Political website Guido Fawkes, which maintains a rolling spreadsheet of Tory MPs’ support, had Sunak at 103, Johnson at 68 and Mordaunt at 25 by the end of Friday.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, a favorite of the Tory grassroots, told reporters that he himself was not standing. “Right now I’m leaning towards Boris Johnson,” he said.
But Wallace added that Johnson had “some questions to answer” about the multiple scandals, which resulted in a yet-to-be-launched inquiry in the House of Commons.
If found guilty of lying to the House of Commons about the ‘Partygate’ scandal – breaking the lockdown in Downing Street – Johnson could be suspended or even removed from parliament.
As a result of such controversies, Johnson left No. 10 with dismal polls, and other Tories were stunned at the prospect of his return.
Veteran backbencher Roger Gale warned Johnson could face a wave of resignations from MPs who refuse to serve as leader under him.
– ‘Backstabber’ –
Johnson’s ambiguous call was underlined by a YouGov poll that found 52 percent of voters opposed his return.
In the Sunak constituency in Yorkshire, northern England, 58-year-old farmer Elaine Stones said the party made a mistake in electing Truss over him.
“He is honest, trustworthy and he should have been elected last time,” she told AFP.
But retired Maureen Ward called Sunak a “backstabber” who helped overthrow Johnson.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)