London (AFP) – Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson He announced on Sunday that he would not run to lead the Conservative Party, ending a short-lived, high-profile bid to return to the post of prime minister who ousted him just over three months ago.
His withdrawal leaves former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak the frontrunner to become Britain’s next prime minister – the third this year – at a time of political turmoil and severe economic challenges. He can win the contest on Monday.
Johnson, who was ousted in July amid moral scandals, was widely expected to run to replace Liz Truss, who resigned last week. After her economic tax cut package caused financial markets turmoil, she was soon abandoned and her power eroded within the ruling party.
Johnson spent the weekend trying to garner support from fellow Conservative lawmakers after returning from his Caribbean vacation and held talks with the other contenders, Sunak and House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt.
He said late Sunday that he garnered the support of 102 colleagues, well over the 100 threshold required for a vote for lawmakers on Monday.
But he fell behind on Sunak’s support, and said he concluded that “you can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in Parliament”.
The prospect of Johnson’s return had thrown an already divided Conservative Party into further turmoil. He led the party to a landslide electoral victory in 2019, but his premiership was clouded by scandals over money and morals that eventually became too much for the party.
In his statement on Sunday, Johnson insisted he was “well positioned to achieve a Conservative victory” in the next national election, due by 2024. He said he was likely to win a Conservative vote against any of his rivals.
“But in the course of recent days I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that this would not be the right thing to do,” he said. “So I’m afraid the best thing is that I’m not letting my candidacy go ahead and committing my support to whoever succeeds.”
But he hinted that he might return, saying, “I think I have a lot to give but I’m afraid this is simply not the time.”
After Truss resigned on Thursday, the Conservative Party hastily ordered a contest which aims to finalize nominations on Monday and install a new prime minister – the third this year – within a week.
The favorite now is Sunak, who has the support of more than 140 lawmakers, according to unofficial statistics. Mordaunt is backed by less than 30.
If both hold the ballot, 357 Conservative lawmakers will hold an indicative vote on Monday to show their preference before the choice goes to the party’s 172,000 members across the country. If Mordaunt does not reach 100 nominations, Sunak will win by acclamation.
Sunak, 42, finished second to Truss in this summer’s Conservative Party leadership race to replace Johnson. On Sunday, he confirmed that he is racing again for leadership.
“There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of government that I lead, and I will work day in and day out to get the job done,” Sunak said in a statement.
Johnson’s exit came just hours after the Allies insisted he would run. Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC on Sunday he had spoken with Johnson and “clearly will stand up” after returning to London on Saturday from a vacation in the Dominican Republic.
But Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, a former Johnson supporter and influential politician within the Conservative Party, warned that Johnson’s return would be a “guaranteed disaster”. Baker indicated that Johnson still faces an investigation into whether he lied to Parliament while in office about breaking his government’s coronavirus restrictions while partying in Downing Street.
If convicted, Johnson could be suspended from serving as a lawmaker.
“This is not the time for Boris and his style,” Becker told Sky News on Sunday. “What we cannot do is make him prime minister in circumstances where he is bound to collapse from within, bringing down the entire government…and we can’t do that again.”
Truss resigned Thursday After 45 turbulent days, she admitted she couldn’t meet her failed tax cut economic packagewhich she was forced to abandon after sparking outrage within her own party and weeks of turmoil in financial markets.
Sunak, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2020 until this summer, led Britain’s sluggish economy through the coronavirus pandemic. He resigned in July in protest of Johnson’s leadership.
At the summer contest to succeed Johnson, Sunak described promises of Truss and other competitors to cut taxes immediately as “fairy tales” and argued that high inflation must be controlled first.
Conservative voters supported Truss because of Sunak, but he was proven right when an unfunded Truss tax cut package wreaked havoc on markets in September. Now the task of stabilizing Britain’s fluctuating economy is likely to fall upon him.