Former United Kingdom Prime Minister (PM), Boris Johnson has dramatically pulled out of the race for 10 Downing Street after admitting he cannot unite the warring Conservative Party.
But Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak’s only remaining rival in the race to become the next prime minister – signaled she would not withdraw from the process.
Johnson had the public support of 59 MPs but required 100 to continue in the contest.
The race is now wide open for Sunak, the former chancellor, who has more than 140 Tory MPs backing him. Mordaunt lags behind with the public support of 26.
Johnson said he had “reached out” to leadership rivals Sunak and Mordaunt to see if they could work together in the national interest, but it had not proved possible.
In a statement, he insisted he had secured the 100 nominations needed to get onto the ballot paper – and that if he stood there was a, “very good chance” he would be back in Downing Street by the end of the week.
“But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in Parliament.
“And though I have reached out to both Rishi and Penny – because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest – we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this.
“Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds, ” he added.
While Sunak is now the clear favourite, a source from Mordaunt’s campaign told The Telegraph that she was “still running” for leader.
“Penny is the unifying candidate who is most likely to keep the wings of the Conservative Party together and polling shows that she is the most likely candidate to hold onto the seats the Conservative Party gained in 2019,” they source said.
“Ed Balls, shadow cabinet ministers and Labour advisers have all said Penny is the candidate Keir Starmer fears most.”
Sunak said he would always be “grateful” to Johnson over Brexit, the vaccine rollout and the response to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, adding: “Although he has decided not to run for PM again, I truly hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad.”
Alex Burghart, the minister for growth, has thrown his weight behind Rishi Sunak. Burghart had previously not expressed a preference for the next Tory leader and prime minister.
But quoting Kemi Badenoch’s endorsement of Sunak, in which she said the party needed a “unifying figure to do what’s right for the UK”, he said: “I agree. I’m backing Rishi.”