Sunak and Javid in pole position if race for Johnson’s job begins

A number of senior Tory MPs are preparing leadership bids as Johnson’s hold on power weakens

Leadership jostling kicked off among leading Conservative MPs as Boris Johnson clung to power, with departing cabinet ministers Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid the favourites, and Eurosceptic Steve Baker publicly saying he would “reflect seriously on whether to run”.

Baker, a former chair of the European Research Group who was one of the “Spartan” holdouts against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, was the second to go on the record with leadership ambitions, saying it was “accurate” that he was thinking about a bid.

Tom Tugendhat, a leading figure on the One Nation wing of the party, had already said he was likely to throw his hat into the ring. The attorney general Suella Braverman said on Wednesday night she would be a candidate in a forthcoming leadership election – but would not be immediately resigning. “I don’t want to resign because I have that duty and we need an attorney in government.”

But Javid, the former health secretary, and Sunak, the former chancellor, made themselves the leading contenders for the top job when they resigned one after the other on Tuesday night, urging Johnson to step down.

Sunak’s popularity among Conservative members plummeted after the furore over his wife’s non-dom tax status. But by Wednesday he appeared to have recovered his position as frontrunner after stepping down, kicking off a deluge of ministerial resignations.

One former Tory aide who is close to one of the other leadership camps said they thought it was possible that Sunak could be “crowned” by the party to avoid a bitter contest. Sunak has the support of many ministers and backbenchers, as well as Conservative advisers working for a range of cabinet colleagues.

Other Tory MPs thought ambition would get the better of the other candidates and a vicious and personal competition would go ahead.

Javid also bolstered his credentials as a candidate as he was the first to resign. He gave a highly critical speech in the House of Commons urging others to join him.

“I have concluded that the problem starts at the top, and I believe that is not going to change. And that means it is for us who have a position of responsibility to make that change,” Javid said.

He said colleagues would have their “own reasons” for remaining in office. “But it is a choice. I know just how difficult that choice is. But let’s be clear: not doing something is an active decision. I am deeply concerned about how the next generation will see the Conservative party on our current course. Our reputation, after 12 years in government, depends on regaining the public’s trust.”

MPs said Javid was the most organised in terms of having a team and an offering, and could even hint at his ambitions when he appears at a lunch for Westminster journalists on Thursday.

While the drama was unfolding, Liz Truss, another leading candidate, was abroad at the meeting of G20 leaders in Bali. She had pledged her loyalty to the prime minister before leaving, but was off the pitch while her cabinet colleagues were going one by one to tell him it was over.

Jeremy Hunt, a former cabinet minister and possible candidate on the centrist wing of the party, who has previously called on Johnson to go, kept his silence – apart from posting an Instagram picture of himself looking serious on the phone. Some MPs on his One Nation wing of the party suggested they were sceptical about his candidacy, preferring Tugendhat as a “cleanskin” choice without association with past administrations.

Another frontrunner, Penny Mordaunt, the trade minister, had been considered a prime candidate to lead resignations against the prime minister. She was also quiet as Johnson’s crisis grew. One MP said they believed she had up to 50 MPs signed up to her bid, which would make it one of the most advanced campaigns.

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Nadhim Zahawi, who was appointed chancellor to replace Sunak on Tuesday evening, also appears to have positioned himself as a contender by taking the job in No 11, raising his public profile.

Tory MPs were feverishly discussing the different candidates, but the main conclusion was that almost anyone would be better than Johnson.

Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, is potentially being lined up to take over as a caretaker leader if Johnson were to leave immediately. A source close to Michael Gove said he would not be running for the leadership, but he could be another candidate to step into No 10 temporarily.


Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

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