UK: Rishi Sunak launches bid to be new Conservative leader

Former UK finance minister announces bid to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said he will step down.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
Sunak quit the cabinet on Tuesday, triggering an avalanche of resignations from Johnson's government [File: John Sibley/Reuters]

British former finance minister Rishi Sunak has announced he is running to replace Boris Johnson, three days after helping to launch the cascade of resignations that brought the prime minister down.

Johnson announced on Thursday that he would stand down as prime minister after a mass rebellion in his Conservative Party, triggered by the latest in a series of scandals that had fatally undermined public trust.

Johnson’s imminent departure has added political uncertainty to an already difficult mix of soaring inflation, slowing growth and industrial unrest, set against a backdrop of war in Ukraine and the United Kingdom’s continuing struggle to adapt to life after Brexit.

“Someone has to grip this moment and make the right decisions. That’s why I’m standing to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and your prime minister,” Sunak said in a video posted on Twitter.

“Do we confront this moment with honesty seriousness and determination or do we tell ourselves comforting fairy tales that might make us feel better in the moment but will leave our children worse off tomorrow,” he said.

Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid quit the cabinet on Tuesday within minutes of each other, setting in motion a chain of events that led to Johnson’s decision to step down.

The rules and timetable for the contest to replace Johnson are due to be set out next week by a party committee.

Sunak’s budget last year put the UK on course for its biggest tax burden since the 1950s, which critics said undermined his claim to favour lower taxes.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunak oversaw about 400 billion pounds ($481bn) of economic support, avoiding a big jump in unemployment but letting public borrowing rise to a peacetime record high in the face of a historic slump in GDP.

Sunak’s popularity with Conservative lawmakers was later dented after he raised income taxes in April to fund higher health and social care spending, and announced plans to raise corporation tax sharply in 2023.

Conservative Member of Parliament Tom Tugendhat and Attorney General Suella Braverman have also both officially announced their candidatures.

Former health and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who lost to Johnson in 2019, was “virtually certain” to run again, a source close to Hunt told British media.

Johnson resists

Meanwhile, Johnson was continuing to resist demands to stand down immediately and hand over power to his deputy, Dominic Raab.

Johnson’s spokesman said there was no question of Raab taking over as caretaker.

“The prime minister is acting in line with convention. He remains prime minister until a new party leader is in place and the work of the government will continue whilst that takes place,” he told reporters.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the main opposition party aimed to trigger a vote of no confidence in Parliament if the Conservatives do not get rid of Johnson immediately.

“He’s a proven liar who’s engulfed in sleaze and we can’t have another couple of months of this,” she said in an interview with BBC radio.

“If they don’t, we will call a no-confidence vote because it’s pretty clear he hasn’t got the confidence of the House [of Commons] or the British public.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies