(LONDON) Maneuvers began on Friday to replace British Prime Minister Boris Johnson after his resignation caused by an unprecedented political crisis, and his former finance minister Rishi Sunak was one of the very first to position himself for his succession.
Mr Johnson resigned on Thursday, let go by the Tory party exhausted by the back and forth scandals that marked the charismatic former Brexit hero’s nearly three years in power.
Between Tuesday and Thursday, some 60 members of his government – ministers, secretaries of state and other collaborators with lesser responsibilities – had resigned after a new scandal, leaving him no other option.
“I am running to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister. Let’s restore confidence, rebuild the economy and bring the country together,” Rishi Sunak said on Twitter Friday evening. “My values are non-negotiable, patriotism, justice, and hard work,” he added in a very polished video where he particularly emphasizes the importance of his family.
A survey of 493 party members for Channel 4 gives him the Conservatives’ favorite candidate (25%), ahead of Foreign Minister Liz Truss (21%).
Given the lead in a previous poll this week, Defense Minister Ben Wallace is only third at 12% this time. A volatility that portends a very open competition, in which the Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Penny Mordaunt and the former Minister of Health Sajid Javid also seem to be serious competitors. But none of them have declared themselves at this stage.
“Not two months like that”
Rishi Sunak, 42, was one of the first to throw in the towel on Tuesday night, apparently without even telling Boris Johnson, along with Sajid Javid. These two resignations a few minutes apart had paved the way for dozens of others, elected officials criticizing Boris Johnson for his lack of integrity.
If the Prime Minister has resigned, he has not yet left Downing Street, specifying that he will remain in power until his successor is appointed. This situation, which could last until the start of the school year, or even the fall, is making people cringe, while the country is facing record inflation of 9%, the worst of the G7 countries, and a rise in social movements, in the context of the war in Ukraine.
M. Johnson « est un menteur avéré noyé dans la corruption, nous ne pouvons pas passer encore deux mois comme ça », a déclaré la cheffe adjointe de l’opposition travailliste Angela Rayner, appelant vendredi à la désignation d’un premier ministre intérimaire, sur la BBC. « S’ils ne le font pas […] we will present a motion of no confidence before the parliamentary recess” on July 22, she added.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman, however, ruled out Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab taking over as interim. “The Prime Minister is acting in accordance with the convention. He remains prime minister until a new party leader is in place and the work of government will continue during that time,” he said.
The new Minister of Education, James Cleverly, assured that the process of appointing the new Conservative leader would be carried out “professionally but quickly”. Some elected officials, however, fear a chaotic summer.
Mr Johnson assured after his resignation that his hastily reconstituted government (12 ministers and secretaries of state were appointed on Thursday and 7 on Friday) would not seek to implement new policies or make major changes. The big budget decisions will be left to the next prime minister.
Details of the procedure to succeed him will be announced on Monday by the 1922 Committee, a Conservative parliamentary group. The designation of the new leader of the party, who will become Prime Minister – the party having the majority in the House of Commons – must take place before the annual convention of the party on October 2 in Birmingham.
And already the knives are out: Jacob Rees-Mogg, loyal to Boris Johnson, of whom he is the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, launched an attack in good standing on Friday against Mr. Sunak, whose resignation would have enraged Boris Johnson. “Rishi Sunak failed as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was a high-tax chancellor, who was unaware of the problem of inflation,” he said even before his candidacy was announced.
In announcing his resignation, Mr Johnson, 58, had not had a word for the unprecedented wave of departures in 48 hours, or the turmoil of his tenure and accusations exposing his lies and lack of integrity.
He said he was “tremendously proud” of his record, and denounced the “powerful herd instinct” at Westminster, a direct attack on those who had abandoned him en masse.