Rishi Sunak’s hopes of a smooth accession to power have taken a blow after Boris Johnson supporters warned he would face an “ungovernable” Conservative parliamentary party, while Penny Mordaunt’s campaign insisted she remained in the race.
The former chancellor could be named as the successor to Liz Truss as party leader, and thus prime minister, as early as 2pm on Monday if Mordaunt, the Commons leader, fails to gather the necessary 100 nominations from MPs.
Sunak, who has more than 160 nominations, became the very likely winner after Johnson announced on Sunday night that he would not be running. The former prime minister said he had 100-plus MPs backing him but others were sceptical.
Christopher Chope, the MP for Christchurch and a supporter of Johnson, warned on Monday that Sunak was seen as having undermined Johnson and Truss, and thus could not expect loyalty from Conservative MPs. To have a mandate, Chope said, Sunak needed to call a general election.
“We have got a parliamentary party which is completely riven, and it’s ungovernable,” Chope told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “In a sense, that is the reason why Boris has pulled out, because obviously Rishi Sunak wasn’t prepared to guarantee him his support in the event that he was elected as leader by the party and the country.
“Unless we can have somebody as our leader in parliament who commands the support and respect of the parliamentary party, we are in effect actually ungovernable.
“Unlike Boris, who did have a mandate, we now have the prospect of having a Conservative party leader who doesn’t have the mandate from the country and won’t even have a mandate from the membership either.”
Asked if he would back Sunak if we won, Chope replied: “I supported Boris Johnson and I supported Liz Truss, and I saw before my very eyes their authority being undermined by the people who now wish to take over and inherit the crown.
“Respect is a mutual thing. If the people who are now seeking the crown want to have the respect which comes from having a mandate, then what I am saying is that the best way they can get that respect is by winning a mandate with the people, and that’s why I think a general election is essentially the only answer.
“Otherwise we’re just going to go from bad to worse. We’re going to have continuing rebellions as we try to change policies.”
Mordaunt is stuck on about 30 publicly declared MP nominations, although her team hope she could be boosted by some supporters of Johnson moving to her.
Mordaunt’s backers vowed on Sunday that she was still in the race, and on Monday morning released details of a poll they said showed she was the candidate best placed to unite the nation.
The Deltapoll survey of 4,000 voters found Mordaunt was more appealing to voters in seats the Tories had gained in 2019 than Sunak or Johnson. It also found she was seen as more trustworthy, “highlighting that she is the only candidate who can unite the country and restore trust in government”, her campaign said.