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Sunak favourite to be UK PM after Johnson drops comeback bid

World Oct 24, 2022 03:22AM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the Commonwealth Business Forum at the International Convention Centre (ICC), in Birmingham, Britain, July 28, 2022. Peter Byrne/Pool via REUTERS
 
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By Paul Sandle, Elizabeth Piper and Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) -Rishi Sunak looked set to become Britain's next prime minister after Boris Johnson withdrew from the contest on Sunday, saying that although he had enough support to make the final ballot he realised the country and the Conservative Party needed unity.

Johnson had raced home from a holiday in the Caribbean to try and secure the backing of 100 lawmakers to enter Monday's contest to replace Liz Truss, the woman who succeeded him in September after he was forced to quit over a string of scandals.

He said he had secured the backing of 102 lawmakers and could have been "back in Downing Street", but that he had failed to persuade either Sunak, or the other contender Penny Mordaunt, to come together "in the national interest".

"I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time," Johnson said late on Sunday.

The former prime minister had secured the public backing of just under 60 Conservative lawmakers by Sunday, well under half of the nearly 150 endorsements Sunak had received.

Sterling rose more than half a cent against the dollar in early trading in Asia.

Johnson's statement likely paves the way for his arch rival, the 42-year-old former finance minister Sunak, to become prime minister, possibly as soon as Monday. If confirmed, he would replace Truss who was forced to resign after she launched an economic programme that triggered turmoil on financial markets.

According to the rules, if only one candidate secures the backing of 100 Conservative lawmakers, they will be named prime minister on Monday.

If two candidates pass the threshold, they will go forward to a vote of the party membership, with the winner announced on Friday, just days before new finance minister Jeremy Hunt lays bare the state of the country's finances in a budget plan due to be released on Oct. 31.

That had raised concerns that Johnson would return to Downing Street with the backing of the party members, and not a majority of lawmakers in parliament, leaving the party badly divided. Hunt declared his backing for Sunak late on Sunday.

Some Johnson supporters could switch to Mordaunt, who has presented herself as the unity candidate, but many immediately switched to Sunak. A source close to the Mordaunt campaign said the former defence minister would continue in the contest.

"She is the unifying candidate who is most likely to keep the wings of the Conservative Party together," the source said.

TORN ITSELF APART

Johnson has loomed large over British politics ever since he became mayor of London in 2008 and went on to become the face of the Brexit vote in 2016. While he led the Conservative Party to a landslide election in 2019, he was forced out just three years later by a rebellion of his ministers.

Sunak said he hoped Johnson would continue to contribute to public life "at home and abroad".

One Sunak supporter, who asked not to be named, said his main reaction was relief because if Johnson had won the "party would have torn itself apart".

Another Conservative lawmaker Lucy Allan said on Twitter: "I backed Boris for PM, but I think he has done the right thing for the country."

Other Johnson backers immediately jumped ship.

Cabinet office minister Nadhim Zahawi, who minutes earlier had published an article on the Daily Telegraph website praising Johnson, said "a day is a long time in politics".

"Rishi is immensely talented, will command a strong majority in the parliamentary Conservative Party, and will have my full support and loyalty," he said.

Earlier, many of the Conservative lawmakers who normally back Johnson switched their support to Sunak, saying the country needed a period of stability after months of turmoil that has sparked headlines - and raised alarm - around the world.

Johnson is also still facing a privileges committee investigation into whether he misled parliament over Downing Street parties during COVID-19 lockdowns. He could be forced to resign or be suspended from office if found guilty.

Sunak first came to national attention when, aged 39, he became finance minister under Johnson just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Britain, developing a furlough scheme to support millions of people through multiple lockdowns.

"I served as your chancellor, helping to steer our economy through the toughest of times," Sunak said in a statement on Sunday. "The challenges we face now are even greater. But the opportunities - if we make the right choice - are phenomenal."

If chosen, Sunak would be the first prime minister of Indian origin in the United Kingdom.

His family migrated to Britain in the 1960s, a period when many people from Britain's former colonies arrived to help rebuild the country after the Second World War.

After graduating from Oxford University, he later went to Stanford University where he met his wife Akshata Murthy, whose father is Indian billionaire N. R. Narayana Murthy, founder of outsourcing giant Infosys (NYSE:INFY) Ltd.

Sunak favourite to be UK PM after Johnson drops comeback bid
 

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Comments (12)
Maximus Maximus
Maximus Maximus Oct 24, 2022 8:55AM ET
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this incompetent right wing tory farce is getting more absurd by the day. now the best of what's left will take over. will he last longer than a cabbage? or maybe they should just give the job to the cabbage?
Phil Ht
Phil Ht Oct 24, 2022 6:30AM ET
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Sunak for PM The Uk Is conquered.
David Bud
David Bud Oct 24, 2022 5:25AM ET
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Good, Boris is a giant ****** This guy has ruined the UK.
Ken Roth
Ken Roth Oct 24, 2022 5:09AM ET
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A pro brexiteer will not solve the problem, they are the problem!!! Sunak will not be able to save brittish economy that is going into the abyss. No outside investments in UK, if you want to sell to 586 million people (EU population) due to  EU regulations, UKs own rules willl not be accepted in EU, Finance sector (UKs strong money makers) are moving activities and jobs to EU, Factories moving to EU because getting goods to EU is hopeless, No new knowledge comming in from brittish youth which is the future of UK because they can no longer study in EU countries and learn new things, no US trade deal, soon UK will be split with Scotland who will not accept that Northern Ireland is still part of EU and are growing their economy while Scotland suffers from brexit etc. The TORIES have played their role and lost in next election they will be thrown out in the streets and labour/ liberal democrats will overtake power and a new vision for UK reentering the common market and EU will be set.
Otb Investor
Otb Investor Oct 24, 2022 5:09AM ET
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Seems Like EU is the problem, not UK or Brexit. Dissolve EU. Get rid of bureaucracies and regulations. Watch all prosper.
Ken Roth
Ken Roth Oct 24, 2022 5:09AM ET
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Otb Investor yeah lets not care what we eat, drink or breathe. Lets open all borders and allow anybody in the world to sell whatever they want and do whatever they want and do not bother with the why and how they want….lets not care about our neighbours and what happens to them as long as it does not affect us right now….
Yellow Owl
Mystic_Owl Oct 23, 2022 11:59PM ET
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So, UK is going to become the new Indian colony. lol
maddukuri Gangadhar Ch s
maddukuri Gangadhar Ch s Oct 23, 2022 11:59PM ET
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no but just to tread and tame white apes.
Otb Investor
Otb Investor Oct 23, 2022 8:59PM ET
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Solicitors, your greed is spoiling reading experience for the rest of us.
Steven ML
Steven ML Oct 23, 2022 1:22PM ET
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Can't blame Boris (he's got the memory span of a goldfish). Worst thing is that there are actually people supporting this buffoon
F.M. Lakhani
F.M. Lakhani Oct 23, 2022 12:58PM ET
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Sunak has already played Cow card which is very popular in India.
gab nea
gab nea Oct 23, 2022 11:54AM ET
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some people just dont know when to bow out, exit stage left, please!
my life my rule
my life my rule Oct 23, 2022 10:10AM ET
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DREAM OF INDIAN RULING BRITAIN SOON POSSIBLE.... BRITISHERS WILL BE SLAVES SOON THAN LATER.....
Brad Albright
Brad Albright Oct 23, 2022 10:10AM ET
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Your bigoted comments betray a gross lack of understanding.
Devkanya RC
Devkanya RC Oct 23, 2022 10:10AM ET
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Indians are not sitting and dreaming of ruling britain except one or two people like you. Rishi Sunak is British, and his first loyalty will always be to Britain where he got the opportunity to rise so far.
Hunt Richardson
Hunt Richardson Oct 23, 2022 10:10AM ET
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what planet are you from?
 
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