World 23 minutes ago (Oct 23, 2022 04:55PM ET)
© 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
By Paul Sandle, Kate Holton and Elizabeth Piper
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 ballot to replace Liz Truss, the woman who succeeded him in September after he was driven out of office over a string of scandals.
Johnson said he had secured the backing of 102 lawmakers, but that he had failed to persuade either Sunak, or the other contender Penny Mordaunt, to come together “in the national interest”.
“Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds,” he said in a statement late on Sunday.
“I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”
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, Sunak, to become prime minister, possibly as soon as Monday, replacing Truss who was forced to resign after she launched an economic programme that triggered turmoil on financial markets.
According to the rules of the accelerated contest, 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 is due to lay bare the state of the country’s finances 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. The BBC says Sunak has the backing of almost 150 lawmakers so far.
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.”
Sunak, the 42-year-old former finance minister, had earlier confirmed that he would enter the ballot, vowing to tackle the country’s “profound economic crisis” with “integrity, professionalism and accountability”.
“I want to fix our economy, unite our party and deliver for our country,” said Sunak, the man accused by Johnson’s supporters of ending his previous three-year spell in office.
Sunak quit the cabinet in July, triggering an unprecedented ministerial rebellion against Johnson.