Rishi Sunak likely to become Britain's PM today as Boris backs out and Mordaunt flounders

Former British Treasury chief Rishi Sunak is frontrunner in the Conservative Party's race to replace Liz Truss as prime minister

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Monday, October 24, 2022, 03:57 PM IST
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Conservative Party leadership candidate and frontrunner Rishi Sunak leaves his home in London, on Monday, October 24 | AP

With hours left to go before the deadline to meet the 100 Tory MP support bar required to qualify as a candidate in the race to become the UK’s next Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has emerged as the clear favourite to replace Liz Truss and could be declared the new Conservative Party leader as early as Monday evening.

Sunak has reportedly reached the threshold of securing the backing of half of the 357 Tory MPs – a symbolically important milestone, as he can now claim to have the support of his party in the British House of Commons.

Sunak is reported to have secured the support of 185 MPs who have publicly backed him.

Key members of the Conservative party have rallied around Sunak – Senior conservative member of the House of Lords (the upper house of Britain’s bicameral parliament) Michal Forsyth has publicly asked Sunak’s only challenger Penny Mordaunt to concede defeat, in order to eliminate intra-party division and clear the way for Sunak to become PM.

“The last thing we need is for us to have an extended period when markets are unsettled and when, quite frankly, the Conservative Party is looking ridiculous - both at home and abroad," he told the BBC.

However, underdog Mordaunt has not yet conceded defeat, and is racing against time to secure the backing of 100 MPs by the 2pm deadline (6.30pm IST). She is lagging far behind frontrunner Sunak, with fewer than 30 MPs backing her cause. And Mordaunt will come under intense pressure to step aside and not force a membership vote if Sunak is the strong favourite among lawmakers.

Key backers of former PM Boris Johnson -- who dropped out of the contest on Sunday evening -- are calling for members of the Conservative party to get behind former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak. These backers include big names in the party, such as include ex-home secretary Priti Patel and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

Johnson had earlier claimed that he had reached the support needed to stand, but said it would not be "the right thing to do." Since then, he has been praised by both Sunak and Mordaunt.

If Mordaunt does not reach 100 nominations, Sunak will win by acclamation and could move into 10 Downing Street by Monday evening.

If both make the ballot, the 357 Conservative lawmakers will hold an indicative vote on Monday to show their preference. If neither subsequently drops out, the choice will go to the 172,000 party members around the country, with a result announced Friday.

Truss quit Thursday after a turbulent 45 days in office, conceding that she could not deliver on her botched tax-cutting economic package, which she was forced to abandon after it sparked fury within her party and weeks of turmoil in financial markets.

Sunak, who was Treasury chief from 2020 until this summer, steered Britain’s slumping economy through the coronavirus pandemic. He quit in July in protest at Johnson’s leadership.

And the markets have made their preference clear: On Monday morning, the British pound sterling stood around 0.4% higher, trading at US$1.1 to the dollar. In addition, borrowing costs for the UK government in the financial markets dropped as the markets opened after the weekend, indicative of the confidence investors have in Sunak.

The Conservative Party turmoil is fueling demands for a national election. Under Britain’s parliamentary system, there does not need to be one until the end of 2024, though the government has the power to call one sooner.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition Labour party have reiterated their call for a general election, as have the Scottish National Party. Currently that looks unlikely. Opinion polls say an election would spell disaster for the Conservatives, with the left-of-centre Labour Party winning a large majority. Thus, the Tories have absolutely no incentive to call for an election, which they are all but certain to get trounced in.

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