Boris Johnson out of race to be next British prime minister

LONDON– Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Sunday that he would not run for the Conservative Party leadership, ending a short-lived attempt to return to the post of prime minister from which he was ousted just over three months ago.

His departure makes former Chief Financial Officer Rishi Sunak the clear favorite to be Britain’s next prime minister. He could win the competition as early as Monday.

Johnson, who was ousted in July amid ethics scandals, is widely expected to replace Liz Truss, who quit last week after her tax-cut stimulus package turmoiled financial markets and wiped out her authority within the ruling party.

Johnson spent the weekend enlisting support from fellow lawmakers after flying back from a Caribbean vacation.

Late Sunday, he said he had amassed more than 100 names, the cusp of running.

But he was way behind Sunak in support. Johnson said he had concluded that “unless you have a unified party in Parliament, you cannot govern effectively”.

Sunak garnered the public support of well over 100 Tory lawmakers to stay ahead of his two main rivals: Johnson and ex-Cabinet Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

The Conservative Party hastily ordered a contest aimed at closing nominations on Monday and installing a new prime minister – his third this year – within a week.

Sunak, 42, finished second to Truss in this summer’s Tory leadership race to replace Johnson after he was forced out of office by a series of ethics scandals. On Sunday he confirmed that he was running again at the last leadership competition.

“There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of government I lead and I will work day in and day out to get the job done,” Sunak said in a statement.

Johnson’s exit came after allies insisted he would run. Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC on Sunday that he had spoken to Johnson and “will definitely stand” after he flew back to London from a holiday in the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

A possible return to power for Johnson, 58, who only officially resigned in early September, has deeply divided Conservatives and alarmed many others. Supporters say he is a vote-winner and has enough backing from lawmakers, but many critics warn that another Johnson administration would be disastrous for the party and the country.

Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, a former Johnson supporter and an influential politician within the Conservative Party, warned that a Johnson comeback would be a “guaranteed disaster”. Baker noted that Johnson is still under investigation over whether he lied to Parliament during his term in office about breaching his government’s own coronavirus restrictions during parties at Downing Street.

If found guilty, Johnson could be suspended as MP.

“This is not the time for Boris and his style,” Baker told Sky News on Sunday. “What we can’t do is have him as Prime Minister in circumstances where he’s bound to implode and overthrow the entire government… and we just can’t do that again.”

But Johnson won the support of several senior Conservatives, including Nadhim Zahawi, another former chief financial officer.

“He was contrite and honest about his mistakes. He had learned from those mistakes how to run the No10 and the country better,” said Zahawi.

Truss resigned Thursday after a turbulent 45 days, admitting she could not implement her botched tax-cut economic package, which she had to abandon after it sparked anger in her party and weeks of financial turmoil.

Sunak, who was chief financial officer from 2020 until this summer, steered the slumping UK economy through the coronavirus pandemic. He resigned in July in protest at Johnson’s leadership.

In the summer contest to replace Johnson, Sunak called promises by Truss and other rivals to cut taxes immediately as ruthless “fairy tales” and argued that rising inflation must be controlled first.

Tory voters backed Truss over Sunak, but he was right when Truss’ unfunded tax cut package wreaked havoc on markets in September.

Dozens of Britain’s 357 Conservative MPs have yet to publicly declare who they support to succeed Truss.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Boris Johnson out of race to be next British prime minister

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