Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Rishi Sunak leaving his campaign office, in London, on Sunday. Photo: AP

Rishi Sunak favourite to be UK prime minister as Boris Johnson drops comeback bid

  • Rishi Sunak will become prime minister on Monday unless Penny Mordaunt reaches the threshold of 100 backers to force a run-off vote by party members
  • Boris Johnson, who never formally announced his bid to return to Downing Street, has spent the weekend trying to persuade Conservative MPs to back him

Rishi Sunak looked set to become Britain’s next prime minister after Boris Johnson withdrew from the contest on Sunday, saying that although he had enough support to make the final ballot he realised the country and the Conservative Party needed unity.

Johnson had raced home from a holiday in the Caribbean to try to secure the backing of 100 MPs to enter Monday’s ballot to replace Liz Truss, the woman who succeeded him in September after he was driven out of office over a string of scandals.

Johnson said he had secured the backing of 102 MPs, but that he had failed to persuade either Sunak, or the other contender Penny Mordaunt, to come together “in the national interest”.

“Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds,” Johnson said in a statement late on Sunday.

“I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”

Johnson’s statement is likely to pave the way for his arch rival, Sunak, to become prime minister, possibly as soon as Monday, replacing Truss who was forced to resign after she launched an economic programme that triggered turmoil on financial markets.

Boris Johnson returns to UK as Rishi Sunak qualifies for PM race

According to the rules of the accelerated contest, if only one candidate secures the backing of 100 Conservative MPs, they will be named prime minister on Monday.

If two candidates pass the threshold, they will go forward to a vote of the party membership, with the winner announced on Friday, just days before new finance minister Jeremy Hunt is expected to lay bare the state of the country’s finances on October 31.

That had raised concerns that Johnson would return to Downing Street with the backing of the party members, and not a majority of MPs in parliament. The BBC said Sunak has the backing of almost 150 MPs so far.

One Sunak supporter, who asked not to be named, said his main reaction was relief because if Johnson had won the “party would have torn itself apart”.

Boris Johnson arriving at Gatwick Airport in London, after travelling on a flight from the Caribbean. Photo: AP

Another Conservative MP, Lucy Allan, said on Twitter: “I backed Boris for PM, but I think he has done the right thing for the country.”

Sunak, the 42-year-old former finance minister, had earlier confirmed that he would enter the ballot, vowing to tackle the country’s “profound economic crisis” with “integrity, professionalism and accountability”.

“I want to fix our economy, unite our party and deliver for our country,” said Sunak, the man accused by Johnson’s supporters of ending his previous three-year spell in office.

Sunak resigned from the cabinet in July, triggering an unprecedented ministerial rebellion against Johnson.