Boris Johnson pulled out of the race to lead the UK’s ruling Conservative Party and the nation, leaving Rishi Sunak on the brink of becoming the next prime minister.
Johnson, who left office last month after a series of scandals rocked his premiership, said in a statement that it “would simply not be the right thing to do” to mount a bid because it would divide his party.
“You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in Parliament,” Johnson wrote in a statement on Sunday. “The best thing I can do is not allow my nomination to go forward.”
The pound extended gains after Johnson said he wouldn’t stand, rallying 0.8% to $1.1388.
The decision leaves Sunak facing House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt in the contest, with the former chancellor of the exchequer having the public support of key Tory members of Parliament. Mordaunt is staying in the race, a person familiar with the matter said after Johnson’s exit.
Whoever wins will face the task of trying to bring unity to a party that has been through months of upheaval and bruising public infighting. Conservative support has fallen well behind the Labour opposition in polls as a brutal cost-of-living squeeze and soaring inflation darkens the economic outlook.
Prime Minister Liz Truss’s decision to step down last week triggered the contest, following weeks of turmoil in markets with investors dumping the pound and UK government bonds. Her economic plan, including a big boost in borrowing to pay for tax cuts, rattled confidence in markets and turned voter sentiment further against the Tories.
The possibility that Johnson could mount a successful bid to return to an office he left less than two months ago is the latest twist in the upheaval of British politics that followed the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
Johnson cut short a holiday last week to consider a run for his old job, rallying the support of cabinet ministers including Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg. While he remains popular with Tory members, MPs are divided about his legacy and worried that returning him to office would revive all the scandals that bought him down.
Johnson insisted he had the support to go forward to a ballot of the members but said that doing so might deepen splits within the parliamentary party.
“I led our party into a massive election victory less than three years ago,” Johnson said. “There was a very good chance I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party member. But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do.”
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