Boris versus Rishi: How former Prime Minister and his ex-Chancellor could go head-to-head in fight for the soul of Tory party
- Although no candidates have been declared, dozens of nominations were made
- Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak led in endorsements by Conservative MPs
- A close ally of Mr Sunak said the contest will be ‘a battle for the soul of the party’
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak led the race to succeed Liz Truss last night after she became the shortest-serving Prime Minister in history.
After a disastrous 44 days in office she quit when party chiefs told her she had lost the confidence of Tory MPs.
The Prime Minister, who had abandoned her economic plans in the face of market turmoil, said: ‘I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected.’
Her sudden departure triggered a frantic scramble to find a successor – with party chiefs ruling the contest should be over in a week. Candidates will need the backing of 100 Tory MPs by 2pm on Monday to take part in the contest – five times the threshold set for the last contest.
Last night no candidates had formally declared but Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak were racing ahead in terms of nominations – setting up a potential clash between allies turned bitter rivals.
A close political ally of the former PM last night said he was ‘rested’, ‘in great spirits’ and ‘itching to take the fight to Keir Starmer’.
A close ally of Mr Sunak said there would be a ‘natural logic’ to him facing off against Mr Johnson, adding: ‘It will be a battle for the soul of the party.’
A close ally of Mr Sunak said there would be a ‘natural logic’ to him facing off against Mr Johnson, adding: ‘It will be a battle for the soul of the party’
The ex-chancellor last night had 27 declared backers, including former Cabinet ministers Dominic Raab and Simon Hart. Mr Johnson had the public support of 29 MPs, despite having been forced from office just weeks ago.
Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt had 13 public backers, while no other potential candidates had any.
One senior Tory said: ‘It’s going to be Boris versus Rishi. They’re the only serious candidates in a crisis like this.’
Allies of Mr Sunak were last night reactivating the network that saw him collect 137 nominations in July.
Mr Johnson, who is on holiday in the Caribbean and due to fly back to Britain tomorrow, was also taking soundings to establish whether he has the support needed for an extraordinary comeback.
His ally said: ‘He thinks there has been a takeover by the Left-wing, liberal faction of the Tory party and that, although the economic situation is difficult, we cannot give in to defeatism.’
The source said Mr Johnson acknowledged he had made ‘mistakes’ and he would now be keen to ‘reach out to talents across the party’, and be a ‘healing, unifying’ leader. ‘He is the proven election winner, a great campaigner and he is the best argument against a general election because he is the person with a mandate from voters,’ the source added.
One senior Tory said: ‘It’s going to be Boris versus Rishi. They’re the only serious candidates in a crisis like this’
‘The party needs to decide whether it wants to win the next election or just carry on being a circular firing squad and consign itself to oblivion.’
But MPs opposed to Mr Johnson warned his return would trigger immediate resignations, plunging the party into a series of potentially disastrous by-elections.
Health minister Robert Jenrick said: ‘His premiership came to an end for a reason, which is that there were serious questions about competence, credibility, and ethics and does the Conservative Party want to go back to that?’
The jostling for power came as:
- Suella Braverman, Ben Wallace and Kemi Badenoch were all weighing up whether to launch leadership bids;
- New Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove ruled themselves out of the contest, as did newly appointed Home Secretary Grant Shapps;
- Labour called for an immediate election, with leader Sir Keir saying the country deserved ‘a chance at a fresh start’ after months of chaos;
- Tory chiefs said Conservative Party members would decide the outcome of the contest in an online vote if MPs put forward more than one candidate;
- The status of the Budget on October 31 was thrown into doubt, with Treasury sources acknowledging the new PM could cancel the plan to tackle a £40billion hole in the public finances;
- Tory MPs on the Right of the party warned the next leader against going soft on immigration after No 10 suggested rules could be relaxed to boost growth;
- Mr Jenrick told the News Agents podcast the Tories faced ‘extinction’ if they failed to pick a leader they could unite behind;
- The National Cyber Security Centre contacted the Conservatives to caution that an online ballot of members could be targeted for hacking by a foreign power.
- Tory MPs warned that Miss Mordaunt’s ‘woke’ views and lack of experience could damage the party’s election prospects.
Miss Truss was forced to resign in the wake of a catastrophic 24 hours which saw Government discipline collapse. On Wednesday afternoon she sacked Mrs Braverman as home secretary following a row about immigration – and then had to plead with chief whip Wendy Morton and her deputy Craig Whittaker not to resign after a chaotic vote on fracking.
Yesterday morning a slow drip-drip of MPs calling for her to quit was threatening to turn into a flood. North Dorset MP Simon Hoare told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The unsettling thing is that there isn’t a route plan – it is hand-to-hand fighting on a day-to-day basis. Can the ship be turned round? Yes, but there is about 12 hours to do it.’
By late morning Tory shop steward Sir Graham Brady was seen entering Downing Street by a back door to tell the PM time was up.
A Tory source said: ‘He told her that she did not have the support to continue and that if she tried to fight a confidence vote she would lose. It was pretty blunt, but it was nothing she hadn’t worked out for herself already.’
After a morning of fevered speculation Miss Truss emerged from the famous black door at 1.30pm to resign, just 44 days after she took power. She will stay on until a new leader is elected next Friday.
Liz Truss was forced to resign in the wake of a catastrophic 24 hours which saw Government discipline collapse
Her term in office is set to fall months short of the next briefest – that of Tory statesman George Canning, who spent 118 full days as PM in 1827 before dying of TB.
Mr Sunak will start the contest as favourite, with allies saying his Treasury experience is vital in an economic crisis.
Mr Raab said his former Cabinet colleague had the ‘plan and credibility to restore financial stability, help get inflation down and deliver sustainable tax cuts over time’.
But there was a rising clamour among a section of Conservative MPs to ‘bring back Boris’ as the party’s proven election winner.
Former party chairman Andrew Stephenson said: ‘During the last leadership contest as party chairman I received countless emails from party members wanting Boris on the ballot. Constitutionally that was impossible. Now it isn’t.’
Peterborough MP Paul Bristow said: ‘We need an election winner and we had an election winner, so as far as I’m concerned I will listen to my constituents, and their message was “bring back Boris”.’
But veteran Tory John Baron said he would ‘find it impossible’ to serve as a Conservative MP under Mr Johnson. He told the BBC ‘more than a few’ backbenchers would give up the party whip. Sir Roger Gale said there should be ‘no possibility’ of the former PM standing until the Partygate inquiry was completed.
The first ballot of MPs will be held between 3.30pm and 5.30pm on Monday. If there are three candidates with the required number of nominations the loser will be eliminated. An indicative vote will follow – and then potentially a membership ballot.
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