LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Sunday that he would not run for leader of the Conservative Party, ending a short-lived and high-profile bid to return to the post of prime minister from which he was ousted just over three months ago.
His withdrawal leaves former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak the clear favorite to become Britain’s next prime minister – the third this year – at a time of political turmoil and severe economic challenges. He could win the contest on Monday.
Johnson, who was ousted in July amid ethics scandals, was widely expected to replace Liz Truss, who quit last week after his tax-cutting economic program caused turmoil in financial markets, was quickly scrapped and shattered his authority within the ruling party.
Johnson spent the weekend trying to drum up support from fellow Tory lawmakers after returning from vacation in the Caribbean and held talks with the other two candidates, Sunak and House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt.
Late Sunday, he said he had garnered the support of 102 colleagues, more than the 100 threshold needed to make a poll of lawmakers on Monday.
But he was far behind Sunak and said he had concluded that “you can’t govern effectively if you don’t have a united party in parliament”.
The prospect of a Johnson return had thrown the already divided Conservative Party into further turmoil. He led the party to a landslide election victory in 2019, but his premiership was clouded by money and ethics scandals that eventually became too much for the party to bear.
In his statement on Sunday, Johnson insisted he was “well positioned to secure a Conservative victory” in the next national election, due by 2024. And he said he would likely have won a poll of members of the Conservative Party against any of its rivals.
“But over the past few days I’ve unfortunately come to the conclusion that it just wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” he said. “Therefore, I fear the best thing is not to allow my nomination to go ahead and to pledge my support to whoever succeeds.”
But he hinted he could be back, saying: “I believe I have a lot to offer but I’m afraid it’s just not the right time.”
After Truss left on Thursday, the Conservative Party hastily ordered a contest which aims to finalize the nominations on Monday and install a new prime minister – his third this year – within a week.
The clear favorite now is Sunak, who has the support of more than 140 lawmakers, according to unofficial tallies. Mordaunt is backed by less than 30.
If both vote, the 357 Tory lawmakers will hold a tentative vote on Monday to show their preference before the choice goes to the party’s 172,000 members across the country. If Mordaunt doesn’t reach 100 nominations, Sunak will win by acclamation.
Sunak, 42, was a runner-up after Truss in the Tory leadership race this summer to replace Johnson. On Sunday, he confirmed he was running again in the final leadership contest.
“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.
Johnson’s exit came just hours after allies insisted he would turn up. Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC on Sunday he had spoken with Johnson and “he’s clearly going to be on his feet” after returning to London on Saturday from a holiday in the Dominican Republic.
But Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, a former Johnson supporter and influential Conservative Party politician, warned a Johnson return would be “guaranteed disaster”. Baker noted that Johnson is still under investigation into whether he lied to Parliament while in office about breaching his government’s own coronavirus restrictions at parties in Downing Street.
If found guilty, Johnson could be suspended 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, bringing down the whole government…and we just can’t do it again.”
Truss leaves Thursday after 45 hectic days, conceding she couldn’t keep her sloppy promises economic tax reduction packagewhich she was forced to give up after sparking fury within her party and weeks of turmoil in financial markets.
Sunak, who served as Treasury chief from 2020 until this summer, led the collapse of Britain’s economy during the coronavirus pandemic. He resigned in July to protest Johnson’s leadership.
During the summer contest to replace Johnson, Sunak called promises by Truss and other rivals to cut taxes immediately reckless “fairy tales” and argued that soaring inflation must first be addressed. controlled.
Conservative voters backed Truss over Sunak, but he was proven right when Truss’ unfunded tax-cutting program unleashed market chaos in September. Now the task of stabilizing Britain’s faltering economy is likely to fall to him.