Former finance minister Rishi Sunak has declared his candidacy to become the Conservative leader and Britain’s next prime minister, days after he helped spark the cabinet revolt that led to the downfall of Boris Johnson.
Mr Sunak resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer on Tuesday night, prompting dozens of more junior colleagues to follow suit within 36 hours and forcing his ex-boss to resign as leader of the ruling Tories Thursday.
But Mr Johnson, whose scandal-ridden three-year term as prime minister was also defined by the country’s departure from the European Union and COVID, said he would stay on until his successor be chosen.
Revealing his leadership credentials in a fluid social media video ahead of what could be a months-long campaign involving more than a dozen Tory MPs, Mr Sunak pledged to rebuild trust between Britons and their government .
“Let’s restore confidence, rebuild the economy and bring the country together,” added the multimillionaire.
A timetable for the leadership race is due Monday, with the winner settled by the party’s annual conference in early October.
Mr Sunak is among the favorites for the top job, enjoying the immediate support of several senior MPs and leading the latest poll of Conservative party members – who will eventually choose their next leader.
He was the preferred choice of a quarter of those polled, followed by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who was backed by 21%, then Defense Secretary Ben Wallace with 12%, according to the Opinium poll for Channel 4 News. .
Neither Ms. Truss nor Mr. Wallace have yet said they are running.
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat and Attorney General Suella Braverman also formally announced their candidacies.
Former Health and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who lost to Mr Johnson in 2019, was “virtually certain” to run again, a source close to Mr Hunt told British media.
Earlier on Friday, the main opposition Labor Party threatened to force Mr Johnson out of Downing Street immediately.
Calls for his immediate departure and the appointment of an interim chief have multiplied since he announced his resignation Thursday noon.
Deputy Labor leader Angela Rayner said the main opposition party is aiming to trigger a vote of no confidence in parliament if the Tories fail to act.
‘If they don’t we will call a vote of no confidence because it’s pretty clear he doesn’t have the confidence of the House (of Commons) or the British public,’ she told the BBC radio.
To do so, Labor would need the support of dozens of Tory lawmakers. But the strategy is heavy handed because it could trigger a general election and the danger of Tory MPs losing their seats if Mr Johnson is defeated.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said there was no question of Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab taking over, telling reporters he was ‘acting in accordance with convention’.
After nearly 60 resignations, Mr Johnson assembled a new team to govern on an interim basis, announcing a flurry of junior appointments on Friday night.
At a hastily convened first meeting of his top ministers on Thursday, Mr Johnson confirmed his lame duck status by saying ‘major budgetary decisions should be left to the next prime minister’, Downing Street said.
Mr Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid sparked the exodus with their resignations on Tuesday, just as Mr Johnson apologized for appointing a senior colleague facing sexual assault allegations to a role as foreground.
Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip last week following accusations he groped two drunk men.
Downing Street officials eventually admitted Johnson had known of further allegations against Mr Pincher in 2019, and many ministers balked at having to defend the Prime Minister again.
As late as Wednesday evening, Mr Johnson – whose landslide victory in 2019 was the biggest Tory victory since the heyday of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s – had clung defiantly to power.
But he was forced to admit his time was up after another round of resignations on Thursday morning and warnings of a second no-confidence vote next week by Tory MPs.
The Tory infighting has erupted as millions of Britons struggle with the worst fall in living standards since the 1950s, fueled by soaring energy prices following the war in Ukraine.
Mr Johnson’s popularity had plummeted since revelations about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street saw him become the first prime minister to be fined.
Labor leader Keir Starmer and Ms Rayner were themselves under investigation by North East England police over a rally during the lockdown, and had both vowed to quit if they were fined.
Durham Police said on Friday they were not issuing any fines to Mr Starmer, Ms Rayner or 15 others at the April 2021 meeting, saying it was a business event and not a ‘a party.