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UK: Who could replace Boris Johnson?

July 8, 2022

After Boris Johnson's resignation as Conservative Party leader, there was a long list of potential successors, although the field has narrowed. Here's who's left in the race.

Boris Johnson
The outgoing leader says he will support his successor, but only as much as he is ableImage: Frank Augstein/AP/picture alliance

The last time there was a Conservative leadership election, Boris Johnson was streets ahead as the favorite to succeed Theresa May from the very beginning. This time around, after Johnson's fall from grace, the field was wide open but has now narrowed. Here's a rundown of the remaining contenders.

Rishi Sunak

The 42-year-old former finance minister — whose resignation helped precipitate Johnson's demise — is considered to be among the front runners in the race to succeed his old boss.

Hours after Johnson said he would quit as leader, Sunak was said to have set up a leadership campaign office at a Westminster hotel. 

Rishi Sunak
Sunak is a strong contender but many think his vast personal wealth puts him out of touch with votersImage: John Sibley/Reuters

The Times newspaper reported that he planned to pitch himself as the "serious candidate for a serious time." 

Indeed, Sunak later announced that he would be running for party leader, saying "let's restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country," alongside a slick campaign video.

Born to Indian parents who moved to the UK from East Africa, Sunak attended the exclusive Winchester College private school and studied at Oxford. His elite education and work in investment banking could make him seem out of touch with ordinary voters.

He also faces pressure following revelations that his multi-millionaire wife avoided paying taxes on her overseas income. Like Johnson, Sunak was also fined by police for attending a lockdown-flouting birthday party.

Liz Truss

The 46-year-old has announced her intention, gaining momentum among the Conservative Party faithful — some of whom see her as a latter-day Margaret Thatcher. 

In announcing her bid in The Daily Telegraph, Truss argued that she has "a clear vision of where we need to be, and the experience and resolve to get us there."

Truss dashed back to London from a G20 foreign ministers' meeting in Bali immediately after Johnson's resignation, before the event had even begun.

Liz Truss
Truss was originally an opponent of Brexit, but would eventually become a convert to "Global Britain"Image: Justin Ng/Avalon/Photoshot/picture alliance

She was initially a candidate in the 2019 Conservative leadership race to succeed Theresa May, but ultimately stepped aside to endorse Boris Johnson.

It's believed that she has been carefully cultivating her leadership credentials since. 

Truss took on the role as the UK's top diplomat in September after serving as trade minister. Although she campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, Truss has become a champion of Brexit, having signed a string of post-Brexit trade deals in her former role. 

Penny Mordaunt

The 49-year-old international trade minister has emerged as a surprise potential contender, with claims that she might garner support by saying she could help heal party divisions.

She gained a certain level of fame with the UK public in 2014 by taking part in a now-defunct UK reality television diving show "Splash!" 

Mordaunt had a prominent role in the pro-Brexit campaign, although she backed Hunt in the 2019 leadership contest.

Penny Mordaunt
Mordaunt caused a splash with her reality television appearance, and has many fans among lawmakersImage: Justin Ng/Avalon/Photoshot/picture alliance

At the time, she served as defense minister, but she was removed from the post when Johnson became prime minister.

Since then, she made a return to government and enjoys considerable popularity among Conservative lawmakers who decide the early stages of the contest.

Kemi Badenoch

As an arch-Conservative, the former equalities minister has scooped up support from some on the right of the party.

The 42-year-old lawmaker was initially considered a rank outsider for the race, but was given a boost when party heavyweight Michael Gove endorsed her.

Kemi Badenoch
Badenoch was a member of the London Assembly and is considered to be on the right of the party Image: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA/picture alliance

Born in London to Nigerian parents, Badenoch has shown a willingness to wade into culture war issues as part of the Johnson government's attacks on "wokery."

She stood down from her ministerial post only a day before Johnson announced he was quitting.

A Brexit supporter and former London Assembly member, Badenoch has held several ministerial jobs but has never served in the Cabinet.

Edited by Jenipher Camino Gonzalez

Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.