Who Could Replace Boris Johnson As U.K. Prime Minister?
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s premiership continues to hang in the balance after Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak resigned on Tuesday—joined by at least 30 other lawmakers and government officials in the 24 hours since.
Johnson was aware that Chris Pincher was being investigated by the Conservative Lawmaker for sexual misconduct. He was appointed in a high-ranking role for party discipline. Pincher quit last week following fresh allegations that he had groped two male colleagues at work on June 29.
Learn more Boris Johnson’s Premiership Is Teetering on the Edge
After an investigation revealed that Johnson was hosting illegal parties at Downing Street during COVID-19 lockdowns, the scandals surrounding him are just the latest. Johnson was able to survive a no confidence vote, but more than 40% of Conservative legislators declared that they were unsure of his abilities to lead the country.
Already, bookmakers speculate about who might replace Johnson in case of Johnson’s departure. These are the likely scenarios for Johnson and those who could succeed him.
According to the averages of various bookmakers’ predictions, Sunak is one of the favorites to take over the British premiership, at 9/2. Johnson appointed Sunak in February 2020 as the finance minister. His first full cabinet role was dominated by the fallout from the pandemic—the tens of billions of pounds of government support Sunak distributed to workers and businesses alike once made him the clear favorite to succeed Johnson.
Sunak, despite having to raise public spending to address the global health crisis in 2011, is still a conservative low-tax and small-state. Sunak’s social media skills and polished personality have made him stand out from the Conservative Party’s older wings. Sunak voted Leave during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Sunak’s popularity has waned in recent months. The ex-finance minister was criticized for being slow to react to the cost-of-living crisis affecting Britons, and controversy over his millionaire wife’s non-domicile tax status has further alienated voters.
Sunak, however, can claim that Johnson was his priority by quitting minutes after Javid.
Penny Mordaunt (the most popular candidate not to hold a Cabinet position) is another favourite to succeed Johnson at 9/2. The former defense secretary is a staunch supporter of Brexit but has been vocal in her criticism of Johnson over the “partygate” scandal.
Mordaunt is currently an international trade minister. She has led efforts to create commerce agreements with U.S. States and is considered a powerful speaker in Parliament. She is currently the Royal Navy reserve’s sole female lawmaker.
She is popular among Conservative loyalists—a poll by right-wing blog Conservative Home found she was the second favorite choice of grassroots party members.
Javid, a former health secretary who has served in several high-ranking cabinet positions and ran for the party’s leadership position in 2019, is a 7/1 chance. He previously held Sunak’s former position as Johnson’s finance minister, but resigned in 2020 after refusing to fire some of his most senior aides. He also served as home secretary to Former Prime Minister Theresa May.
Javid is a renowned Thatcherite—a portrait of the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher reportedly hangs on his office wall—and a fan of American philosopher and writer Ayn Rand’s views around free market capitalism, individualism, and small-state government.
Javid returned to cabinet as health secretary in June 2021, shifting the government’s approach to COVID-19 away from mass restrictions and towards individual responsibility.
Since Liz Truss, the foreign secretary of the Conservative party has been widely regarded as the potential leader of the party’s future. She was a Cabinet member who won widespread support for her passionate Brexit support. tongue-in-cheek social media presence. Her odds of winning were 9/1 according to bookmakers. In her current role, she has been a prominent figure in the U.K.’s response to the Russian war in Ukraine and coordinated post-Brexit talks with the European Union.
Although Truss was quick to display her loyalty to Johnson following Sunak and Javid’s resignations, she has for months been laying the groundwork for a future leadership contest, hosting “Fizz with Liz” drinks parties for Conservative lawmakers and inviting comparisons with Margaret Thatcher.
Despite her Left-wing background and attempts to enter student politics as a Liberal Democrat centrist, Truss has since voted for conservative small-state values.
Close behind Truss on 8/1, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has experienced a recent surge in popularity thanks to his approach to the Russian war in Ukraine—he topped the recent Conservative Home poll of potential Tory leaders.
Wallace is a former Army captain and has largely remained out of the spotlight as a junior Minister for David Cameron, May and other former leaders. While he displayed his loyalty to Johnson by arriving alongside the leader at last month’s no-confidence vote, he so far has kept himself free from scandal.
Jeremy Hunt, former health and foreign secretary, lost the Conservative leadership election to Johnson in 2019. He has now positioned himself as the strait-laced alternative to the beleaguered prime minster. Hunt has voted for Remain and is now closer to the Conservative center.
He has been a vocal critic of Johnson’s handling of the pandemic and the “partygate” scandal.
Relative political newcomer Nadhim Zahawi, who has odds of 12/1, first gained popularity as vaccines minister, overseeing the U.K.’s successful rollout of COVID-19 shots. His loyalty to Johnson has paid off—Zahawi was promoted to education secretary in September and now, following Sunak’s resignation on Tuesday, to finance minister. In 2016, he voted for Brexit.
Zahawi came to the U.K. as a child refugee from Iraq, fleeing Saddam Hussein’s regime. Although Zahawi has been relatively quiet in recent years, he did admit to heating his stables with taxpayer money in 2013. The Guardian He admitted that he hadn’t declared his connections to the two tax haven-based companies.
Priti Patel (Home Secretary) is considered a wildcard candidate for Johnson’s replacement, and her odds are 33/1. Patel’s hardline approach to immigration has earned her a good reputation. She secured the highly criticized agreement to allow refugees into the U.K. for Rwanda.
The daughter of Indian migrants from Uganda, Patel famously admitted in 2020 that her own parents wouldn’t have been allowed into the U.K. if they had been subjected to her points-based immigration policy.
Johnson, where would you go?
Johnson faces increasing pressure to resign but bookmakers believe he will remain until 2023. This is one year before the next general elections are scheduled. Johnson made clear that he intends to keep fighting for his position as leader. “I’m going to keep going,” he said in a parliamentary session on Wednesday.
Under Tory party rules, Johnson is safe from a leadership challenge for another year, after winning last month’s no-confidence vote by 211 votes to 148. The 1922 Committee is the Conservative party’s official caucus. It may attempt to amend the rules. The committee meets today and gets its first opportunity to change the rules in a week’s time. Theoretically, another vote to oust Johnson could take place before lawmakers’ summer break begins on July 21.
If this option fails, Johnson’s opponents across the political aisle would instead be left to hope for a snap general election, should Johnson call one in a bid to fend off an internal party challenge. Labour leader KeirStarmer spoke out in support of the possibility for a snap election on Tuesday. “We need a fresh start for Britain. We need a change of government,” he said. Despite the fact that 66% disapprove Johnson in polls, Starmer is not a popular choice with voters.
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