LONDON (AP) – Two candidates were kicked out of the race to replace UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, leaving six lawmakers struggling to lead a Conservative party – and a country – amid scandal and division. Was hoping to move on for months.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Treasury Chief Nadim Jahvi failed to reach the 30-vote limit in a secret ballot by Conservative lawmakers to remain in the contest.
The remaining contenders will now scramble to engage the supporters of the two men in a contest that will replace the flamboyant, scandal-ridden Johnson with a new and little-known prime minister – a man famous both in Britain and around the world.
The vote confirmed the race position of former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, who came first with 88 votes. And it gave a big boost to Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, who garnered 67 votes and came in second.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss got 50 votes. Former Equality Minister Kemi Badenoch, Backbench MP Tom Tugendhat and Attorney General Suella Braverman also remain on the ballot.
358 Tory lawmakers lined up in a damp corridor in parliament Wednesday afternoon in a grand room laden with oil paintings. The security staff handed over their phones to him to ensure confidentiality.
The next phase of voting will take place on Thursday and if necessary next week, until only two candidates are left.
The final two contenders would face a runoff vote by some 180,000 Conservative Party members nationwide. The winner is to be announced on 5 September and will automatically become prime minister, without the need for a national election.
Candidates are battling to replace Johnson, who stepped down as Conservative leader last week amid party revolts over months of ethical scandals. He would remain in office as a caretaker prime minister until his replacement as party chief is elected.
Unlike Sunk and Truss, Mordant did not hold a senior position in Johnson’s government, although she was a junior minister. An affable politician from a military family, she is widely seen as a breath of fresh air and has been scoring high in party members’ polls.
At the launch of its official campaign on Wednesday, Mordant said the party had “standards and confidence to restore” after years of scandal over Johnson.
He said voters are “fed of the work we have done, they are fed up with unfulfilled promises and they are fed up with divisive politics.”
Truss supporters, meanwhile, are urging the party’s moderate right-wing lawmakers – including supporters of Zahavi, Badenoch and Braverman – to unite around the foreign secretary. Lawmaker Simon Clark said it “will ensure the last two have a clear free market vision.”
Neither Hunt nor Zhavi endorsed any candidate after leaving the race. “I have no intention of interfering any further,” Jahvi said.
The slate of candidates is surprisingly diverse, with four contenders from ethnic minorities and four women. But all are offering similar tax-slashing pledges, with only Sunak offering caution.
He has called himself a candidate for fiscal integrity, saying the country needs “honesty and responsibility, not a fairy tale” to get through the economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Supporters of other candidates have inappropriately portrayed Sunak – whose heroine is former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – as a leftist. Johnson’s office has denied running a campaign to discredit Sunak, whose resignation last week helped end the prime minister’s rule.
A spokesman insisted Johnson remained neutral in the campaign to choose his replacement.
Johnson struck a farewell note in his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons. He indicated that this could be his last appearance there, although he is scheduled to ask questions again before Parliament’s summer break next week and to leave office on 6 September.
He told Labor leader Keir Starmer, “The next leader of my party can be chosen with admiration – although this will only happen if one of the last two candidates drops out.” “So it is possible that this will be our last confrontation.”
Johnson said it was “true that I don’t leave at my time of choice,” but insisted: “I’m leaving soon with my head held high.”