Former finance minister Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss will battle it out to become Britain’s next prime minister after they won the final vote among Conservative Party MPs, setting up the last stage of the contest to replace former leader Boris Johnson.
Johnson was forced to resign this month after he lost the support of his legislators following months of scandals, including breaches of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown rules.
“Grateful that my colleagues have put their trust in me today. I will work night and day to deliver our message around the country,” Sunak posted on Twitter on Wednesday.
Sunak has led in all rounds of the voting among Conservative legislators but it is Truss who seems to have gained the advantage so far among the 200,000 members of the governing party who will ultimately choose the winner.
Grateful that my colleagues have put their trust in me today.
I will work night and day to deliver our message around the country.
— Ready For Rishi (@RishiSunak) July 20, 2022
Truss also took to social media to thank her supporters saying she is “ready to hit the ground running from day one”.
Eleven candidates originally put their names forward but in a fifth and final ballot of Conservative legislators on Wednesday, the junior trade minister Penny Mordaunt was eliminated. Sunak won 137 votes, versus Truss’s 113 and Mordaunt’s 105.
Whoever triumphs when the result is announced on September 5 will inherit some of the most difficult economic conditions in Britain in decades. Inflation is on course to hit 11 percent annually, growth is stalling, industrial action is on the rise and the pound is near historic lows against the dollar.
Britain under Johnson, and aided by Truss, also took a hard line against Brussels in its post-Brexit negotiations around Northern Ireland, drawing legal action from the European Union and threatening future trade ties.
Polls show Truss would beat Sunak in the party members’ contest, opening up the chance that the party elects a leader who was not the most popular choice for MPs at Westminster.
Regardless of who wins, Britain is now guaranteed to get either its first prime minister of colour or its third woman leader.
Sunak and Truss now take their case to Conservative party members, who will decide the new leader and prime minister after a series of nationwide hustings in August.
Sunak’s resignation as finance minister this month helped to topple outgoing leader Johnson after months of scandal including “Partygate”, and Downing Street is reportedly running an “anyone but Rishi” campaign.
In a hint of support for Truss’s low-tax platform, the premier urged his successor to “cut taxes and deregulate where you can to make this the greatest place to live and invest”.
Sunak, who helped steer the economy through the pandemic, might not find a forgiving crowd among party members with many blaming him for triggering Johnson’s downfall with his resignation earlier this month.
He has also faced criticism on everything from his record in government to his wife’s wealth.
Truss might also struggle at the hustings against Sunak, who is more relaxed in public appearances. On Sunday she admitted she might not be “the slickest presenter” but “when I say I’ll do something, I do it”.