Rishi Sunak | Photo: AP
London: Former UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Tuesday emerged as one of the early candidates to hit the threshold of 20 supporting Conservative Party members of Parliament for his nomination to compete for the post of leader and the next British prime minister, to be announced on September 5.
The 42-year-old British Indian MP for Richmond in Yorkshire maintains his lead in the race to replace Boris Johnson as nominations formally opened for the contest. Meanwhile, Priti Patel – widely expected to become another Indian-origin candidate in the race – ruled out a bid saying she was "grateful" for the encouragement but her focus remains on her current job as Home Secretary.
“I will not be putting my name forward for the ballot of MPs,” said the 50-year-old Gujarati-origin Cabinet minister.
"As Home Secretary, I have always put the security and safety of our country and the national interest first and my focus is to continue working to get more police on our streets, support our amazing security services to keep our country safe and control our borders," she said, not confirming which candidate she would be backing to replace Johnson.
The prime ministerial hopefuls have until 6 pm local time to get their nominations in, with Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt and Tory backbencher Tom Tugendhat the others in the running to hit the requisite 20-MPs mark.
New Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi claims he has the required numbers too and others expected to run include: India-origin Attorney General Suella Braverman, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Nigerian-origin Kemi Badenoch, former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Office Minister Rehman Chishti and former Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has withdrawn a planned bid to throw his support behind Sunak.
On Monday, the 1922 Committee laid out the timetable for the leadership race and confirmed that the new Prime Minister will be elected on September 5 and address their first Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament on September 7. The first round of voting by Tory MPs is scheduled for Wednesday, when each candidate will require the backing of 30 colleagues – or just under 10 per cent of Tory MPs – in total to progress to round two.
A second ballot on Thursday will narrow down the field further as candidates with the least votes keep getting knocked out. There is provision for further ballots next week if the race to get to the final two candidates does not conclude by the end of this week.
The deadline to narrow down the shortlist to just two remaining candidates is July 21, when the 1922 Committee Chair Sir Graham Brady will also seek an assurance that both finalists will remain in the race to face the wider party membership ballot.
In 2019, the last-minute withdrawal of Andrea Leadsom from the race had meant that Theresa May was elected unopposed by MPs, without having to face the Tory membership base. The party is keen to avoid a repeat of such a scenario in this election.
After the field is whittled down to the final two candidates, they will tour the UK for hustings to campaign the estimated 200,000 Tory party members who will then cast postal ballots for the winner based on a one member, one vote system. The candidate who receives the most votes will win the race and be declared the new Tory leader and UK prime minister.
Meanwhile, a vote of Tory party members carried out by the Conservative Home website put Penny Mordaunt in the lead, indicating an appetite for change within the grassroots of the party. Former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch emerges as the second favourite, followed by Sunak and Braverman at third and fourth.
Among the MPs, most Johnson loyalists are expected to endorse Truss, who will be seen as a continuity candidate. Many of the Conservative Party's 358 MPs are yet to openly throw their weight behind any of the candidates yet and there will be intense activity as the week progresses and the remaining candidates on the shortlist vie for the support of those previously backing unsuccessful hopefuls.