The United Kingdom’s leadership contest to succeed outgoing-Prime Minister Boris Johnson is entering its final stretch. After numerous rounds of internal voting, the Conservative Party is readying for a final round between former Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
On Wednesday, the Tories completed their penultimate round of voting for the Prime Minister slot that saw Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt and former Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch failing to make it to the final round. With the Tories now rallying around either Sunak or Truss, the two candidates are expected to now criss-cross the U.K. in a bid to win over Conservatives before a final result is announced on Sept. 5.
Earlier in the day, Johnson, whose term in office was brought down by a series of scandals, bid his farewell to Parliament. In his final exchange with lawmakers, Johnson highlighted his shepherding of the U.K. through Brexit, his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his support to Ukraine amidst Russia’s war against it.
“Hasta la vista, baby,” Johnson called out to his fellow Conservatives at the end of the session.
Both Sunak and Truss served in positions under Johnson and now they must navigate their own way out from under his regime.
Sunak is a multi-millionaire former banker who led the Johnson government’s economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic after being struck hard by it in 2020. It was Sunak’s resignation earlier this month that is widely credited with forcing Johnson to resign.
Sunak has pitched himself as a candidate ready to address the economic realities of the moment, namely rocketing inflation levels. He has panned Truss’ own proposals to refinance the government’s debts as a way to initiate tax cuts as unwise without first addressing inflation. Despite being a supporter of Brexit, some worry that Sunak’s role in ousting Johnson and his image as an elite may dampen his support among his fellow Brexiteers.
Truss, for her part, has stood on her record as foreign secretary as well as her strong embrace of Thatcherite conservative values. In a recent debate before the latest round of voting, Truss positioned herself as a candidate who will “hit the ground running from day one” and unify the party.
Despite supporting Britain remaining in the European Union in 2016, Truss has won the support of pro-Brexit Conservatives and has dutifully carried out Johnson’s Brexit negotiations with Brussels. This may carry a potential leg-up over Sunak in parts of the U.K. where support for Brexit was strong, despite his support for the process.
Polling is sparse on who is currently the frontrunner in the leadership contest, but it has been reported that Truss is presently a favorite to win over Sunak within the party.
Separate data from the polling firm YouGov found that most Tory voters want a candidate with “honesty and integrity” after Johnson’s scandal-plagued term with concerns about values and divisive social issues lower down their list of priorities.