Sunak, Mordaunt or Boris Johnson: The candidates who could succeed Liz Truss as UK prime minister


A new leadership contest will be held within a week, Liz Truss said in her resignation speech at Downing Street on Thursday.

Graham Brady, the Conservative official in charge of the process, announced the candidates to replace Truss would need at least 100 nominations from Conservative MPs.

If more than one candidate reaches that threshold, they will be put to Conservative members in an online vote, with the new Prime Minister being announced on Friday 28 October.

This will be the fifth Conservative prime minister in just over six years – and the third of this term. But who could be the next leader? Here are some of the key runners and riders:

Sunak has proven to be something of a prophet of doom for the government, as many of the predictions he made about Truss’s economic plan during his tenure this summer have come true.

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasury Secretary) warned that Truss’ unfunded tax cuts would lead to a rush in sterling, panic in the bond market and concern from the International Monetary Fund. Perhaps even he would have been surprised at the speed with which he was proved right.

Sunak has experience tackling economic crises, having guided the UK through the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also received the most votes from MPs in the last leadership election – easily crossing the new threshold with 137 endorsements. Although Truss eventually won the deciding member vote, Sunak narrowly lost – with 43% of the vote.

The confidence he has among MPs – and the confirmation his predictions have won – could make him the likely next couple to steer the ship.

The leader of the House of Commons may have had a dress rehearsal for prime minister this week after filling in for an absent Liz Truss in a debate.

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“The Prime Minister isn’t under a desk,” confirmed Mordaunt on Tuesday — in a performance that seemed as much about putting himself up as it was about helping the Prime Minister.

Mordaunt came third in the last leadership election, narrowly missing out on being placed before the members. With 105 MP votes in the last election, she too should break the newt threshold.

She is expected to do well among party members, in part due to her military credentials. Mordaunt is a reservist in the Royal Navy and briefly served as Secretary of Defense.

Like Sunak, she belongs to the more moderate wing of the party. There has even been talk of the two forming a “dream team” ticket among MPs, although that has yet to be done – and it’s unclear whether either would accept becoming chancellor rather than take the top job.

Badenoch finished fourth in the leadership elections that summer — with just 59 MP votes — but has been consistently ranked by pollsters as a favorite among Conservative grassroots members.

One of the younger MPs in the running, Badenoch quickly won the support of long-time Tory grandee Michael Gove, who praised her as an “outstanding talent” in the party.

Badenoch is on the right of the Tory party – and hinted in her previous lead candidate that the government’s climate targets could prove too costly.

With Truss’s votes from MPs now up for grabs, Badenoch may have an outside chance to cross the threshold and make it to the Members’ vote.

Several allies have argued that Johnson could be a unity candidate who could bring stability to the country, though he resigned from disfavor just months ago after a spate of scandals that made his position untenable.

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When asked by CNN how they could justify Johnson becoming prime minister again, an MP who campaigned for Johnson in the 2019 leadership campaign said: “Socialists are going to destroy our economy and if you don’t understand that, then I have really scared for our future.”

Another MP who backed Johnson in 2019 said he was the only candidate who could easily win over both Conservative MPs and Conservative Party members.

Johnson’s closest allies said they were aware he was being actively influenced by Truss in the hours following Truss’ resignation speech, and told him he represented the party’s best chance for stability in the medium term.

In his last speech as Prime Minister outside 10 Downing Street, Johnson made one of his characteristic references to ancient history. He said he would “return to his plough” like Roman statesman Cincinnatus – and suggested a quieter life in the back benches. But that’s not what Cincinnatus’ days looked like. He was recalled from his plow to return to Rome for a second term – this time as dictator.

Some suspect the new 100-vote threshold is an attempt by the Conservative Party to make another term for Johnson impossible. It would be expected that he would do extremely well if voted on by party members – but the high threshold of MP votes makes it unlikely to come to that.

It is a sign of the disarray of the Truss government’s final days that it appointed Grant Shapps Home Secretary – despite not offering him any ministerial post when he took office.

Shapps served as Minister for Transport under Boris Johnson. He ran to succeed him in the previous leadership election – only to withdraw from the race three days later after failing to secure the required 20 MP votes for the next round.

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The new threshold is likely to prove too high for Shapps – but his criticism of the Truss government from the start may have won him the support of more MPs than last time.

Suella Bravermans The resignation as interior minister on Wednesday evening could have been a harbinger of a possible leadership offer. The former attorney general has not previously run – but with her tough stance on immigration, it could look like she is pulling the party further to the right.

Tom Tugendhat emerged as the surprise favorite among Tory members and the general public despite finishing only fifth in the last leadership election. Having not served as a cabinet minister prior to that contest, Tugendhat distanced himself from the moral mess of Johnson’s government and promised a “clean start” for Britain. After serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tugendhat was appointed Minister of Security by Truss.

Ben Wallace, Secretary of Defense and another ex-military, was named Johnson’s successor in the most recent leadership contest — doing very well among Conservative members. However, he never ran in that election and it is unclear if his position has changed since then.

ex-prime minister Teresa May was also presented as a possible “Unity” candidate to succeed Truss. May attempted to rally the quarreling wings of the Conservative Party over Brexit, which resulted in her eventually being replaced by Boris Johnson. As the party has proved unable to resolve their disputes this time, another attempt at compromise may soon be in order.


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