More than 165 MPs declare for ex-chancellor after Johnson said he would not run despite claiming he had 102 supporters
Boris Johnson has withdrawn from the race to be Conservative leader, leaving Rishi Sunak within touching distance of becoming prime minister.
After senior Tories warned a Johnson comeback would lead to chaos by the end of the week, the former prime minister admitted he did not have the backing of enough MPs to lead a united party.
Johnson, who never officially launched his campaign, said on Sunday night said he believed he could have delivered a Conservative victory in 2024 but it was “simply not the right thing to do” and “not the right time”.
In a tweet shortly later, Sunak said Britain was grateful to Johnson for delivering Brexit and the vaccine rollout and for taking on Vladimir Putin over Ukraine.
“Although he has decided not to run for PM again, I truly hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad,” the tweet said.
Johnson’s move piles pressure on Penny Mordaunt, the third candidate in the race, to withdraw and accept that Sunak had the support of the parliamentary party, with almost half of MPs backing him. She had only 30 public backers by Sunday night – 70 short of the number needed to get on the ballot paper.
Sunak, who came second in the race against Liz Truss over the summer, racked up nominations over the weekend, ranging from rightwingers such as Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman to more centrist figures such as Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, and Grant Shapps, the home secretary.
He ended Sunday on more than 165 supporters including Cabinet Office minister Nadhim Zahawi, who had hours earlier heralded the return of what he termed “Johnson 2.0”.
A source close to Sunak said he was “not taking anything for granted”. “Rishi will be continuing to talk to colleagues tomorrow morning before nomination papers go in, and discussing how best to unite the party and take the country forward,” the campaign source said. If he succeeds he would become Britain’s first non-white PM and, as a Hindu, his victory would be sealed on Diwali.
A source on the Mordaunt campaign insisted her campaign was continuing and that she wanted to get on the ballot so party members could decide the result.
“Penny is the unifying candidate who is most likely to keep the wings of the Conservative party together and polling shows that she is the most likely candidate to hold on to the seats the Conservative party gained in 2019. [Former shadow chancellor] Ed Balls, shadow cabinet ministers and Labour advisers have all said Penny is the candidate Keir Starmer fears the most.”
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