Boris Johnson struggled on Sunday to muster 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.
The two men have become early favorites to replace Liz Truss, who announced her resignation on Thursday just six weeks into a term that has plunged Britain into political and economic turmoil.
Sunak declared on Sunday morning that he will participate in the competition. In a tweet, he wrote: “The UK is a great country but we are facing a deep economic crisis. That is why I am the leader of the Conservative Party and your future Prime Minister. I want us to fix our economy, unite our party and deliver results for our country.”
The former chancellor of the exchequer has already reached the 100-nomination mark to reach the ballot stage, while Johnson’s allies said the former prime minister had returned from a Caribbean holiday with the intention of joining the race, the news reported PA, but has yet to declare standing.
A run-off between the two men could prove divisive for the ruling Conservative party, not least because many of Johnson’s supporters blame Sunak’s resignation in July for causing the fall of his government. Some outlets have speculated that the two men could reach some sort of deal.
The BBC reported that a meeting had taken place between Johnson and Sunak, but “it was not revealed what they discussed”, while British news agency PA Media reported that the pair “were said to be locked in talks until late evening” on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Sky News referred to the meeting as a “secret summit”.
Sunak and Johnson, if he decides to run, will be up against House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, who said on Sunday she regretted the so-called “mini-budget” that led to economic turmoil in Britain and Truss’ resignation.
“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 was not aware of “.
The last time the Conservatives held a leadership race – after the demise of Johnson’s government – Truss came in first, Sunak second and Mordaunt third.
Graham Brady, the Conservative official in charge of the process, said any candidate must receive at least 100 nominations from party MPs by 2pm local time on Monday.
The threshold effectively narrows the field of potential candidates to a maximum of three, as the party has 357 MPs.
If only one candidate meets that threshold, they will automatically become the leader. Otherwise, the remaining candidates will be put to an online vote by members of the Conservative Party, which will end on Friday 28 October.
Truss resigned on Thursday, just six weeks into his disastrous tenure that plunged Britain deep into political and economic turmoil. Her successor will be the fifth prime minister to lead the country since it voted for Brexit in 2016.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labor Party, renewed calls for a general election on Sunday after he claimed people were fed up with Tory leadership and the consequences of their government’s decisions.
“There is a choice to be made. We need general elections! Let the public decide… Do they want to continue with this total 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 bid to become prime minister. “Boris has the mandate to deliver our elected manifesto and a proven track record of getting big decisions right,” she said in a tweet.
But his possible return to the top job has divided opinion within the Conservative Party, with many MPs terrified of the prospect of a second term as Johnson.
Johnson’s former deputy prime minister and foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, told the BBC that “we cannot go back” and stressed that Johnson still faces an investigation into the so-called partygate scandal over illegal gatherings in Downing Street.
The former prime minister is expected to appear in the next few weeks before the Joint Privileges Committee, which is investigating whether he misled Parliament over parties, which could see him suspended or expelled as an MP.