Nominations in the race to replace British Prime Minister Boris Johnson closed on Tuesday, with eight Conservative lawmakers securing enough support from their colleagues to make the first ballot. Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, whose resignation last week helped bring Johnson down, was a surprise casualty, failing to make the cut.
Candidates needed backing from at least 20 fellow legislators to be on the ballot for run-off votes, which will start Wednesday.
The successful contenders include former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt and backbench lawmaker Tom Tugendhat. Also on the ballot are Treasury chief Nadhim Zahawi, ex-Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Attorney General Suella Braverman.
Javid quit the race on Tuesday after failing to get the 20 supporters. He said serving in government had been “a true privilege.”
Two other candidates, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and lawmaker Rehman Chisti, also pulled out after struggling to gather support.
The candidates are jostling to replace 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. The winner of that contest will automatically become prime minister, without the need for a national election.
The new leader will be chosen in a two-stage election, in which the 358 Conservative lawmakers reduce the race to two candidates through a series of elimination votes. The final pair will be put to a ballot of party members across the country.
The first round of voting was scheduled for Wednesday, with candidates who fail to get at least 30 votes eliminated. Further rounds will take place Thursday and, if needed, next week.
The party aims to complete the parliamentary stage of the election before lawmakers break for the summer on July 21. The two finalists would spend the rest of the summer campaigning around the country.
The new leader is due to be announced when the House of Commons returns on Sept. 5.
Many Conservatives are wary of leaving Johnson in office for too long, concerned a lame-duck leader is the last thing Britain needs with war raging in Ukraine, food and energy price increases driving inflation to levels not seen in decades, and growing labor unrest.
Some also worry Johnson — brought down by scandals over money, rule-breaking and his handling of sexual misconduct allegations against lawmakers — could do mischief during his final months in office.
The opposition Labour Party called for the House of Commons to hold a no-confidence vote in Johnson this week, but the government refused to allow it, saying it was not “a valuable use of parliamentary time” because a contest to replace the prime minister already was underway.
Labour accused the government of “running scared.”
In the wide-open leadership contest, contenders are striving to set themselves apart from the perceived front-runner, former Treasury secretary Sunak, who already has the backing of more than three dozen lawmakers.
Many have repudiated the tax increases Sunak introduced to shore up U.K. finances battered by the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit — a 1.25% income-tax rise for millions of workers, and an increase in corporation tax next year from 19% to 25%. Most candidates say they will scrap one or both.
Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, both committed Brexit supporters and Johnson allies, threw their support behind Truss as a “stop Sunak” candidate for the party’s right wing.
“Liz was always opposed to Rishi’s higher taxes.” Rees-Mogg said. “She’s a proper euroskeptic, she’ll deliver for the voters and she believes in low taxation.”
Sunak, whose resignation a week ago helped topple Johnson, has cast himself as the candidate of fiscal probity. Launching his campaign for Tory leader Tuesday, Sunak said the country needed “honesty and responsibility, not fairytales” to get through tough economic times.
“It is not credible to promise lots more spending and low taxes,” he said.
Sunak also called for an end to the personal attacks already flying around in the contest — many of them aimed at him. He said he would not “demonize” Johnson, whom he called a “remarkable” politician.
“I will not engage in the negativity you have seen and read in the media. If others wish to do that, then let them,” he said. “That is not who we are. We can be better than that.”