- Mordant first announced his intention to run
- Candidates must achieve a target of 100 referrals
- Sunak is a favorite among bookmakers
- The winner is the fifth British Prime Minister in six years
LONDON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Four senior ministers threw their weight behind Boris Johnson as British prime minister on Friday after the resignation of Liz Truss sparked a race to quickly replace the Conservative Party leadership.
Former defense minister Benny Mordant became the first officially announced candidate, but Johnson and Rishi Sunak, once his finance minister, led potential contenders as the candidates gained support ahead of next week’s vote.
With the Conservatives holding a huge majority in parliament and able to ignore calls for another two years of general elections, the new party leader will become prime minister – Britain’s fifth in six years.
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Truss, who walked out on Thursday after six tumultuous weeks, must receive 100 recommendations from conservative lawmakers by Monday. Truss himself succeeded Johnson after he was fired by his colleagues in July.
The party hopes the contest will restore its waning fortunes. If a national election is held now, polls suggest the Conservatives will be doomed.
Johnson has not formally announced he will run, but momentum is building behind him, with Business Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, Equalities Minister Simon Clarke and COP26 climate conference president Alok Sharma backing him. Ben Wallace, the influential defense minister, said he was leaning towards the former leader.
According to a Reuters count of conservative lawmakers who have made public declarations of support, Sunak has 68 supporters, Johnson 33 and Mordant 19.
It would be an unusual comeback for Johnson, who is popular with party members, although a YouCove poll of 3,429 adults on Friday found 52% of Britons were unhappy with him returning as prime minister.
Conservative lawmaker James Duttridge said Johnson had told him he was “up for it” and that the former leader would return to Britain on Saturday from a holiday in the Caribbean.
But some questioned whether Johnson, who left office likening himself to a Roman dictator who was brought to power twice to fight crises, could get 100 nominations. His three-year premiership was marred by scandals and allegations of misconduct.
Former Conservative leader William Hague said Johnson’s return was the worst idea he had heard in nearly half a century as a party member. He said it would lead to a “death spiral” for conservatives.
Sunak, a former analyst at Goldman Sachs, became finance minister because of the Covid-19 pandemic and was runner-up to Truss in the last leadership contest, the bookmakers’ favourite, Johnson. Mordant is back in third place.
The winner will be announced on Monday or next Friday.
Truss would be Britain’s shortest-lived prime minister, with disastrous economic plans.
The scene on Thursday of another unpopular Prime Minister’s resignation speech in Downing Street underscored just how volatile British politics has become since the 2016 Brexit vote.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said leaving the European Union has created instability in Britain.
“I hope they will be stable soon because they are friends and neighbors even if they are not family members,” he told reporters in Brussels.
Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign, led his party to victory in the 2019 general election, prompting many conservatives to argue that he alone has the mandate as leader. But not all the public believed.
“I think they assume that because he did well in the last election, he will win the next election. But a lot has changed since then. And I think he is dishonest,” former accountant Fiona Waldron, 60, said. .
Opposition parties, some newspapers and even some conservative lawmakers have called for an election.
Labor leader Keir Starmer said the Conservatives “cannot respond to their latest mess without the consent of the British people again by clicking their fingers and waving at people at the top”.
“They don’t have the mandate to subject the country to another test.”
Some conservative lawmakers have urged peers to avoid a bruising battle over a candidate.
Sunak, who warned that Truss’s fiscal plans risked economic instability, fell out of favor with some party members after he helped foment a rebellion against Johnson.
Mordaunt is seen as a new face, but untested.
The next president will get an economic recession, with interest rates and inflation above 10% and millions of people facing a cost of living crisis.
Surveys on Friday showed gloomy British shoppers are reining in spending, while public borrowing figures were worse than expected, underscoring economic challenges.
A spokeswoman for Truss said his successor will decide whether to continue with the planned financial plan on October 31.
Whoever takes charge will have to climb the mountain to restore the party’s reputation.
“Whether or not a change of leader will be enough to really make the Conservatives electorally credible is certainly highly debatable,” political scientist John Curtis told LBC.
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Additional reporting by William James, Muvija M, Sachin Ravikumar, Alistair Smout, Farooq Sulaiman and William Schomberg in London and John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alistair Bell
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