LONDON: Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy’s son-in-law Rishi Sunak officially threw his hat into the ring on Diwali-eve to be in the race to succeed Liz Truss as leader of the Conservative party and the next UK prime minister.
According to media reports, Sunak so far had 131 to 153 MPs backing him while Truss’ predecessor Boris Johnson 56 to 76 and Penny Mordaunt 22 to 28 MPs. Only candidates with 100 or more MPs’ nominations will make it through to the first ballot. The deadline ends at 18.30 IST on Monday. If Sunak is the only one who passes the threshold, he will automatically become the UK prime minister on Diwali.
Oddschecker on Sunday still had Sunak as the favourite for next Conservative leader. Announcing he was standing in the race, Sunak said the UK was facing a profound economic crisis. “I want to fix our economy, unite our party and deliver for our country. There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of the government I lead,” he wrote in a statement.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace suggested the three candidates should form a triumvirate government to avoid political infighting at a time when risks to UK national security were so great. But Sunak’s allies pointed out he had the numbers so he did not need to secure any deal with Johnson after the duo met on Saturday night.
Johnson is said to have spent Sunday hitting the phones urging Conservative MPs to back him and even to switch from Sunak.
Business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC’s ‘Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg’ programme that Johnson had the 100 names required and that “clearly he will stand”, adding those nominating him “did not have to go public”.
But Johnson suffered a major blow when former home secretary, Goan-origin Suella Braverman, declared her support for Sunak.
Braverman wrote in the Telegraph: “We need a Prime Minister who can command support from across the broad Conservative family.” Johnson was the right leader “at the right time”, she wrote. “But it would be naïve to look back on those days with sentimentality. We need to provide leadership, stability and confidence to the British people. We cannot indulge in parochial or nativist fantasies.”
Kemi Badenoch, international trade secretary, is also backing Sunak whilst foreign secretary James Cleverly and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Nadhim Zahawi are backing Johnson. “When I was chancellor, I saw a preview of what Boris 2.0 would look like. He was contrite & honest about his mistakes. He’d learned from those mistakes how he could run No. 10 & the country better,” Zahawi tweeted.
Indian-origin cabinet ministers in Johnson’s government, Alok Sharma, Priti Patel and Shailesh Vara, have all declared they are backing Johnson.
MP Steve Baker told Sky News that there would be a vote in the House of Commons on the privilege committee’s recommendations following its inquiry into whether Johnson misled the House over partygate. “At that moment his premiership will collapse and this country cannot afford to be back here in a couple of months,” he said. But Johnson ally Nadine Dorries claimed the focus of the privileges committee “would move straight onto Rishi Sunak and what he knew. With Rishi we will be in general election territory within weeks”, she said.
Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader Daisy Cooper said Sunak “cannot be trusted to steer our country through this cost of living crisis”, adding, “He was the chancellor that hiked taxes on hard-working families and lost billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to COVID contract fraud.”