Boris Johnson dropped out of the race to become Britain’s next prime minister

LONDON– Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not run for the Conservative Party leadership, ending intense speculation of a comeback.

Johnson, who was ousted in July amid ethics scandals, was set to run broadly to replace Liz Truss, who resigned last week.

He’s spent the weekend enlisting support from fellow lawmakers and said he’s garnered more than 100 votes, the threshold to running.

But he was far behind former chief financial officer Rishi Sunak in support. Johnson said he had concluded that “unless you have a unified party in Parliament, you cannot govern effectively”.

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Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak led the Conservative Party’s race to succeed Liz Truss as Prime Minister on Sunday. Sunak garnered the public support of over 100 Tory lawmakers to stay ahead of his two main rivals, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Cabinet Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

However, widespread uncertainty remained after British media reported that Sunak had late-night talks with Johnson on Saturday. Speculation mounted that the pair could strike a deal to unite the fractured ruling party after it was reeling from Truss’s rapid demise following Johnson’s ouster.

The Conservative Party hastily ordered a contest aimed at closing nominations on Monday and installing a new prime minister – his third this year – within a week.

Sunak, 42, finished second to Truss in this summer’s Tory leadership race to replace Johnson after he was forced out of office by a series of ethics scandals. On Sunday he confirmed that he was running again at the last leadership competition.

Sunak has the support of at least 124 Conservative lawmakers, according to unofficial figures compiled by UK news organizations. That’s well ahead of the 100 nominations required to qualify.

“There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of government I lead and I will work day in and day out to get the job done,” Sunak said in a statement.

Johnson, who has not yet declared if he is running, has public support from about 50 lawmakers so far, while Mordaunt has had support from about 23, according to unofficial figures.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC on Sunday he had spoken to Johnson and “he will definitely stand” after he flew back to London from a holiday in the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

Mordaunt and Johnson – if he confirms he’s running – have until Monday afternoon to collect 100 nominations. If all three meet the threshold, lawmakers will vote to knock one out and then hold a tentative vote on the final two.

The party’s 172,000 members would then decide between the two finalists in an online vote. The new chairman is to be elected by Friday.

A possible return to power for Johnson, 58, who only officially resigned in early September, has deeply divided Conservatives and alarmed many others. Supporters say he is a vote-winner and has enough backing from lawmakers, but many critics warn that another Johnson administration would be disastrous for the party and the country.

Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, a former Johnson supporter and an influential politician within the Conservative Party, warned that a Johnson comeback would be a “guaranteed disaster”. Baker noted that Johnson is still under investigation over whether he lied to Parliament during his term in office about breaching his government’s own coronavirus restrictions during parties at Downing Street.

If found guilty, Johnson could be suspended as MP.

“This is not the time for Boris and his style,” Baker told Sky News on Sunday. “What we can’t do is have him as Prime Minister in circumstances where he’s bound to implode and overthrow the entire government… and we just can’t do that again.”

But Johnson won the support of several senior Conservatives, including Nadhim Zahawi, another former chief financial officer.

“He was contrite and honest about his mistakes. He had learned from those mistakes how to run the No10 and the country better,” said Zahawi.

Truss resigned Thursday after a turbulent 45 days, admitting she could not implement her botched tax-cut economic package, which she had to abandon after it sparked anger in her party and weeks of financial turmoil.

Sunak, who was chief financial officer from 2020 until this summer, steered the slumping UK economy through the coronavirus pandemic. He resigned in July in protest at Johnson’s leadership.

In the summer contest to replace Johnson, Sunak called promises by Truss and other rivals to cut taxes immediately as ruthless “fairy tales” and argued that rising inflation must be controlled first.

Tory voters backed Truss over Sunak, but he was right when Truss’ unfunded tax cut package wreaked havoc on markets in September.

Dozens of Britain’s 357 Conservative MPs have yet to publicly declare who they support to succeed Truss.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Boris Johnson dropped out of the race to become Britain’s next prime minister

Laura Coffey

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