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UK leadership race down to final two

July 20, 2022

Former treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will go through to the final stage of the UK's leadership contest. Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt came in third and has been eliminated.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former treasury chief Rishi Sunak
The winner of the Conservative Party leadership vote will be announced on September 5Image: dpa/picture alliance

Britain's Conservative Party has decided  on the final two candidates who will go on to an election to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister.

Former treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss came first and second respectively in a vote of Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday. Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt came in third place and was eliminated.

One of the two finalists will go on to be Johnson's successor as the British prime minister.

The vote came after Johnson made his final appearance in Parliament as the British leader at the Prime Minister's Questions session, the weekly fixture of the political calendar that pits the premier against his opponents and fellow Conservatives in a debate.

"I'm not following this thing particularly closely," Johnson said of the race, to laughter.

Race for next UK leader down to two candidates

What did Johnson say in Parliament?

Less than two weeks ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he was stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party after dozens of senior government officials resigned in a bid to pressure him to quit.

Speaking in his final PMQs, Johnson gave a word of advice to his successor.

"Stay close to the Americans, stick up for the Ukrainians, stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere," Johnson said. 

Johnson also sought to shape his legacy around the government's coronavirus pandemic response and his support of Kyiv in its defense against Moscow.

"We've helped — I've helped — get this country through a pandemic and help save another country from barbarism. And frankly, that's enough to be going on with. Mission largely accomplished," he said.

"I want to thank everybody here and hasta la vista, baby."

What happens next? 

According to the British electoral system, the prime minister can be changed without having to call for a general election. 

On Thursday, Parliament adjourns for the summer. Conservatives elect a new leader after six weeks of campaigning to the party's 200,000 members. The winner will then become prime minister.

The final result will be announced on September 5. After surviving a confidence vote on Monday, Johnson is likely to remain caretaker prime minister until the Conservatives elect his successor. 

Candidates of the Conservative Party lined up in TV studio in line up to vote for British PM
A televised debate was held on Friday between those vying to be the next British prime ministerImage: Victoria Jones/PA/AP/picture alliance

Who are the remaining candidates?

Rishi Sunak, the 42-year old former finance chief, voted to leave the EU in 2016. His reputation has taken a hit since it became publicly known that he broke lockdown rules during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Polls show Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is favored among Conservative Party members.

The 46-year old is currently in charge of dealing with negotiations between the EU and Britain over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland. She is known to have taken an increasingly harsh stance with the EU. 

Truss voted against Brexit in 2016, a move that has been called out by Sunak. 

In response, the foreign secretary questioned Sunak's ability to stay in control of Britain's economy. 

los/wmr (dpa, AFP, Reuters)