Next Prime Minister: Rishi Sunak could get keys to Number Ten today after Boris Johnson pulls out
A new Prime Minister could be named today after Boris Johnson made a dramatic exit from the contest for the Tory leadership, leaving Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt as the remaining candidates.
Nominations formally close at 2pm and candidates must have the support of 100 fellow MPs to go forward to a vote within the parliamentary party. Mr Sunak already has more than 100 declared backers but it is not clear whether Ms Mordaunt will reach the threshold. If she falls short of the 100 required, Mr Sunak will automatically become Tory leader and the new Prime Minister, succeeding Liz Truss, who only took over the job at the beginning of September.
If Ms Mordaunt does reach the 100 threshold, MPs will vote and then Tory members across the UK will have the final choice in an online ballot with the result due to be declared on Friday.
In a statement on Sunday night, Boris Johnson dramatically pulled out, claiming he had the nominations needed to make it onto the ballot paper but admitting he could not unite the warring party. He said there was a "very good chance" he could have been back in No 10 by the end of the week if he had stood, but his efforts to "reach out" to Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt to work together in the national interest had not been successful so he was dropping out. "I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time," he said.
Many MPs were sceptical of Mr Johnson’s claim to have secured the 100 nominations needed to go forward, with the numbers of public declarations of support falling far short of that. Some at Westminster suspected that he chose to withdraw rather than face the humiliation of having to admit he could not get the numbers.
Mr Sunak has more than 140 public declarations of support, while Ms Mordaunt has around 30. Her team are now hoping that the departure of Mr Johnson will mean a swathe of MPs who were backing him or are yet to declare will now swing behind her.
However one senior minister who was backing Mr Johnson – the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Nadhim Zahawi – said he would now be supporting Mr Sunak. "Rishi is immensely talented, will command a strong majority in the parliamentary Conservative Party, and will have my full support and loyalty," he tweeted.
Ms Mordaunt could find herself under pressure to withdraw if she finishes a long way behind Mr Sunak in the poll of MPs, even though she is popular with the Tory grassroots. Some in the party would like to see an uncontested "coronation" to avoid a repeat of what happened with Liz Truss when the party in the country voted for a leader who did not have the backing of MPs. At the same time however many activists – many of whom loathe Mr Sunak for his role in bringing down Mr Johnson – will be furious if they are denied a say in the contest.