Boris Johnson was battling on Sunday to win enough support to make what would be a stunning comeback as Britain’s prime minister, as senior Tory politicians declared their support for former finance minister Rishi Sunak.
Both men became early favorites to replace Liz Truss, who announced her resignation Thursday, just six weeks into a term that has thrown Britain into political and economic turmoil.
Sunak said Sunday morning that he would enter the competition. In a tweet, he wrote: “The UK is a great country but we are facing a deep economic crisis. That’s why I’m running to be leader of the Conservative Party and your next prime minister. I want to fix our economy, unite our Party and deliver for our country.
The former Chancellor of the Exchequer has already hit the 100-nomination threshold to get to the voting stage, while Johnson’s allies say the former prime minister has returned from vacation in the Caribbean with the intends to join the race, PA news reported, but he has yet to say he is standing.
A runoff between the two men could be divisive for the ruling Conservative party, not least because many Johnson supporters blame Sunak’s resignation in July as bringing down his government. Some outlets have speculated that the two could strike some sort of deal.
The BBC reported that a meeting had taken place between Johnson and Sunak but “what they discussed was not disclosed”, while British news agency PA Media reported that the two would “be locked in talks late in the evening” on Saturday.
Sky News, meanwhile, called the meeting a “secret summit”.
Sunak and Johnson, if he decides to run, will face House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, who said on Sunday she regretted the so-called ‘mini budget’ that has led to economic turmoil in Britain and the resignation of Truss.
“I very much regret the mini-budget… I raised concerns even before I was in the cabinet,” Mordant told the BBC in an interview on Sunday, adding that there were details of the budget “that the cabinet didn’t know.”
The last time the Tories held a leadership race – after the Johnson government fell – Truss came in first, Sunak second and Mordaunt third.
Graham Brady, the Conservative official responsible for the process, said any candidate must receive at least 100 nominations from party MPs by 2 p.m. local time on Monday.
The threshold effectively narrows the field of potential candidates to a maximum of three since the party has 357 MPs.
If only one candidate reaches this threshold, he will automatically become the leader. Otherwise, the remaining candidates will be put to an online vote by members of the Conservative Party which will close on Friday, October 28.
Truss resigned on Thursday, just six weeks into his disastrous tenure which plunged Britain deep into political and economic turmoil. His successor will be the fifth prime minister to lead the country since he voted for Brexit in 2016.
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labor Party, renewed calls for a general election on Sunday, after saying people were ‘fed up to the back teeth’ with the Conservative leadership and the consequences of the decisions of their government.
“There is a choice to be made. We need general elections! Let the public decide… Do they want to continue with this utter chaos, or do they want stability under a Labor government? Starmer asked during a BBC interview.
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel on Saturday became one of Johnson’s most prominent supporters in his quest to become prime minister. “Boris has the mandate to deliver our elected manifesto and has a proven track record of making the right important decisions,” she said in a tweet.
But his eventual return to the helm of government has divided opinion within the Conservative Party, with many lawmakers horrified at the prospect of a second post for Prime Minister Johnson.
Johnson’s former deputy prime minister and foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, told the BBC, ‘we can’t go back’ and stressed that Johnson was still under investigation into the self -saying party scandal over illegal gatherings in Downing Street.
The former Prime Minister is due to appear in the coming weeks before the Commons Privileges Committee which is investigating whether he misled Parliament about parties, which could see him suspended or expelled as an MP.