Home Featured Waiting for BoJo: Britain holds its breath in race for next PM
Waiting for BoJo: Britain holds its breath in race for next PM

Waiting for BoJo: Britain holds its breath in race for next PM

by host

LONDON — Ever the showman, Boris Johnson is keeping Britain waiting again.

The former U.K. prime minister — dreaming of another shot at the top job after the spectacular collapse of Liz Truss’ fledgling administration — has yet to formally declare his candidacy in the race for Conservative Party leader.

But throughout the weekend, Johnson and his closest allies have been engaged in a frantic effort to secure the support of enough Tory MPs for him to make it through to a head-to-head contest with old rival Rishi Sunak. To be in with a chance, Johnson needs the support of 100 fellow Conservative MPs by the time nominations close at 2 p.m. Monday.

Late-night talks between Johnson and Sunak — aimed at healing a legendary rift in British politics sparked by Sunak’s fateful resignation from Johnson’s last administration — broke up with no sign of a deal Saturday.

Those close to Johnson insist he’s very much still in the running — but the ex-PM appears unwilling to formally declare his candidacy until he’s sure he has the numbers he needs.

“I have been speaking to Boris Johnson,” said Cabinet minister and Johnson ally Jacob Rees-Mogg. “Clearly he’s going to stand. There’s a great deal of support for him.”

Despite Rees-Mogg’s optimism, some of the signs are ominous for Johnson as the Tories scramble to find a candidate who can save them from collapsing poll ratings amid the U.K.’s economic turmoil.

Former Chancellor Sunak, who formally launched his own campaign Sunday, heads into the week in a commanding position, having already sailed past the 100-nomination threshold. He appears to be the clear choice of the parliamentary party, and if no other candidate secures the support of 100 MPs by Monday’s deadline he will be declared the winner that same day.

However, if a second candidate also hits the 100-MP threshold, the result will be decided by an online ballot of the party’s 180,000-strong membership. Johnson remains a favorite among the grassroots, and would be hopeful of defeating either Sunak or third-placed Penny Mordaunt in a ballot of party members should he get that far.

Crucially for a candidate seen as being from the center ground of the Conservative party, however, Sunak has this weekend won over key figures from the right including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, current International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, and ex-Brexit negotiators David Davis and David Frost.

On Sunday, Steve Baker — another influential right-winger and leading Brexiteer — also threw his weight behind Sunak and cast a withering verdict on Johnson’s potential comeback.

The former European Research Group chairman told Sky News that while there is “a lot of love for Boris Johnson, and I respect that,” an ongoing parliamentary investigation into Johnson’s conduct during the “Partygate” scandal means he’d been a “guaranteed disaster” as PM. Conservative members, Baker said, should “engage with the reality.”

Yet Johnson — who has risen from the political grave before — cannot be counted out. His supporters privately claim he has already reached the 100 MP threshold, even if his publicly-declared backers remain some way below the crucial number. And if Johnson does makes it through to a vote of the wider grassroots members — a group which roundly rejected Sunak during his head-to-head contest with Truss over the summer — he’ll be in with a real chance of seizing the crown for a second time.

The former Tory leader was also buoyed this weekend by the backing of several Cabinet ministers, including Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Cabinet Office Minister Nadhim Zahawi and Transport Secretary Anne Marie-Travelyan.

Making the case, Cleverly said on Twitter Sunday that Johnson had “learned lessons” from his time in No. 10 and “will ensure the focus is on the needs of the country from Day 1.”

Westminster can only watch and hold its breath.

Source link