Broad sectors of the party are pressing to speed up his exit and are proposing a transitional Cabinet, led by an acting prime minister.
Three Conservative MPs have already entered the race to succeed Boris Johnson as leader and prime minister, who conceded defeat the day before but remains in office and official residence in Downing Street. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who directly contributed to the fall of the still head of the British Government, presented his candidacy with a speech in which he promises to “restore confidence, rebuild the economy and reunify the country.”
Sunak got ahead of other favorite candidates with a video of personal tone and high level of production. Forty-two years old and with a colossal economic fortune, he presents himself as the grandson of emigrants who gave him “opportunities that they could only dream of.” He recalls that he headed the Ministry of Finance during the hard years of the pandemic and warns that the country “faces colossal challenges.” “The decisions we make today will decide whether the next generation of Britons will also have a chance to build a better future for themselves,” he says, looking into the camera.
Sunak resigned last Tuesday minutes after the withdrawal from the Cabinet of the then Minister of Health, Sajid Javid, who has not yet confirmed his candidacy. Both leaks, apparently coordinated, precipitated the beginning of the political end for Johnson, who threw in the towel two days later and acknowledged that he had lost the confidence of the majority of the parliamentary group in him. Throughout the day, the still president appointed ministerial and lower-ranking positions with which he completed almost the entire team of his new Executive. He began training it before relinquishing ‘Tory’ leadership in a powerful sign of his determination to retain the helm for a few more months.
He reaffirmed once again his desire to continue in Downing Street until the election of a successor in these primaries, whose rules remain unformulated. The 1922 committee, formed by deputies without a government position, is preparing to elect the new directive next Monday that will clarify the regulation and the calendar of the process. In the formula adopted in 2019, which led to Johnson’s victory, the support of at least ten deputies per candidacy was required, in an attempt to discourage those who really have no prospect of winning. That threshold could be raised this time to speed up the procedure and ensure a speedy resolution to the power vacuum and party split, amid the economic crisis and the war in Ukraine.
Sunak addresses his message to the population in general, although the census of the context is limited to the ‘Tory’ deputies, in the first instance, and the affiliates in the final resolution. The parliamentarians will vote the necessary rounds until the candidacies are reduced to two finalists. Thus, the next leader and prime minister should be decided by postal vote of the more than 100,000 members of the Conservative Party. There are exceptions to the norm. In the election of Theresa May, after the Brexit referendum, the affiliates did not vote due to the unexpected withdrawal of her opponent.
The former soldier and president of the Foreign Affairs committee, Tom Tugendham, also threw his trick into the ring, promising “a new beginning.” “The time has come to renew,” he wrote in the newspaper ‘The Daily Telegraph’. A 49-year-old critic of the prime minister, he says he has a “broad coalition of colleagues who will bring new energy and ideas to running the whole of the UK.” Bridging the gap opened by the withdrawal of the European Union stands out among the priorities that he would set if given the opportunity to lead the country.
Suella Braverman is the most surprising initial candidate. She, general counsel for the Johnson Government, announced her interest in participating in the primaries while commenting on political news on a television program. Braverman aspires to gain support and votes among the most reactionary and ultra-Eurosceptic factions in Westminster. Her ideology is to abolish the influence of foreign courts in the United Kingdom, including the one in Strasbourg, which watches over fundamental human rights.
The controversial national rights bill, which was recently presented, would continue its legislative course under a government led by the lawyer. The same fate would befall the controversial legislative proposal on Northern Ireland, which in its current wording empowers ministers to repeal sections of the special operational protocol in the region and included in the Brexit Agreement. It represents a unilateral action, probably illegal, which has been denounced by the EU and various national and international organizations and experts.
Several heavyweights of the ‘tory’ family are yet to be declared. Among them, the Minister of Defense, Ben Wallace, who is in the lead in voting intentions in surveys of a couple of entities. In second place, according to YouGov, is Penny Mordaunt, a Royal Navy reservist with ministerial experience. Among the platoon are the Foreign Minister, Liz Truss, and the new head of the Economy, Nadhim Zahawi, whose participation is taken for granted.
It is also possible that another veteran of British politics, Jeremy Hunt, will enter the game, who would bring together the moderate and pro-European vote of the Conservative blocs. Sajid Javid, who resigned from the Health portfolio and stood up to Johnson in a devastating speech in the House of Commons, would compete for similar support among centrist MPs. But it would perhaps attract a higher proportion of members, who tend to be more anti-European and radical than the majority of the parliamentary collective.
Sectors of the party are still fighting to prevent Johnson from continuing to lead until the succession is consumed. They propose to form a transition Executive, led by an acting Prime Minister, which would reduce pressure and urgency in the resolution of the selection process. And they suggest Justice Minister Dominic Raab as a candidate, who performed that role in Johnson’s absence and when the prime minister was admitted to a hospital suffering from covid.
In turn, Johnson tries to calm the tension and has indicated to his new Cabinet that no decisions will be made that “tie the hands” of his replacement. Even so, Downing Street spokesmen assure that the controversial bills or the plan to deport refugees to Rwanda will continue to be processed through routine channels. The Parliament is suspended on July 21 and resumes the course on September 5. The identity of the next prime minister should be known before or on the eve of the party’s annual congress in the first week of October.