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Six candidates still in race to replace UK PM Boris Johnson; two eliminated

Two candidates have been knocked out of the race to replace UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leaving six politicians battling to lead a Conservative Party — and a country — hoping to move on from months of scandal and division.

Key points:

  • Former treasury chief Rishi Sunak is currently the front-runner
  • Further rounds of voting will take place until just two candidates remain
  • The final two contenders will face a run-off vote by about 180,000 Conservative Party members

In a secret ballot of Conservative politicians, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt and treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi failed to reach the threshold of 30 votes needed to stay in the contest.

The remaining contenders will now scramble to scoop up the two men’s supporters in a contest that will replace the flamboyant, scandal-ridden Mr Johnson — a figure famous in Britain and around the world — with a new and much lesser-known prime minister.

This first-round vote confirmed the front-runner status of former treasury chief Rishi Sunak, who came first, with 88 votes.

And it gave a big boost to second-placed Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt, who secured 67 votes.

British Treasury chief Rishi Sunak speaks at the launch of his campaign to be Conservative Party leader.
Former British treasury chief Rishi Sunak came first this round, with 88 votes.(AP: PA/Stefan Rousseau)

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss received 50 votes and former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, backbench lawmaker Tom Tugendhat and Attorney-General Suella Braverman also remain on the ballot.

The 358 voters had crammed into a humid corridor at Parliament on Wednesday afternoon to line up and cast their ballots in a grand room hung with oil paintings.

Security staff made them hand over their phones to ensure secrecy.

Further rounds of voting will take place on Thursday and, if needed, next week, until just two candidates remain.

The final two contenders will face a runoff vote by about 180,000 Conservative Party members across the country.

The winner is scheduled to be announced on September 5 and will automatically become prime minister, without the need for a national election.

Diverse pool of candidates jostle to replace Boris Johnson

The candidates are jostling to replace Mr Johnson, who quit as Conservative leader last week amid a party revolt triggered by months of ethics scandals.

He will remain in office as a caretaker prime minister until his replacement as party chief is chosen.

Unlike Mr Sunak and Ms Truss, Ms Mordaunt did not hold a senior post in Mr Johnson’s government, although she was a junior minister.

Penny Mordaunt launches her campaign to be Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister.
Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt secured 67 votes to come in second place.(AP: PA/Stefan Rousseau)

An affable politician from a military family, she is widely seen as a breath of fresh air and has been scoring highly in polls of party members.

At her official campaign launch on Wednesday, Ms Mordaunt said the party had “standards and trust to restore” after the scandal-tarnished Johnson years.

She said voters were “fed up with us not delivering, they are fed up with unfulfilled promises and they are fed up with divisive politics”.

Boris Johnson closes his eyes outside No 10 Downing Street as he announces his resignation.

Supporters of Ms Truss, meanwhile, are urging lawmakers on the party’s libertarian right wing — including backers of Mr Zahawi, Ms Badenoch and Ms Braverman — to unite around the foreign secretary.

Lawmaker Simon Clarke said that would “ensure there is a clear, free-market vision in the final two”.

Neither Mr Hunt nor Mr Zahawi endorsed a candidate after they left the race. Mr Zahawi said: “I don’t intend to make any further intervention.”

The slate of candidates is strikingly diverse, with four contenders from ethnic minorities and four women.

However, all are offering similar tax-slashing pledges, with only Mr Sunak offering a note of caution. He has cast himself as the candidate of fiscal probity, saying the country needed “honesty and responsibility, not fairytales” to get through economic shock waves from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Supporters of the other candidates have improbably depicted Mr Sunak — whose heroine is former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — as a left-winger.

Mr Johnson’s office has denied running a campaign to bad-mouth Mr Sunak, whose resignation last week helped end the prime minister’s reign.

 Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London.
An internal party contest will replace the flamboyant, scandal-ridden PM Boris Johnson with a new, much lesser-known prime minister.(AP: Andy Bailey)

A spokeswoman insisted Mr Johnson was remaining neutral in the campaign to choose his replacement.

Mr Johnson struck a valedictory note at his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons.

He hinted that it could be his last appearance there, although he is scheduled take questions again next week, before parliament’s summer break, and to leave office on September 6.

“The next leader of my party may be elected by acclamation,” he told Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, although that would only happen if one of the final two candidates dropped out.

“So, it’s possible this will be our last confrontation.”

Mr Johnson said it was “true that I leave not at a time of my choosing”, but insisted: “I will be leaving soon with my head held high.”


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