Who’s Going to Replace Boris Johnson as British Prime Minister?

·5 min read

So, who will replace Boris Johnson when the keys to 10 Downing Street are finally prised from his cold, deadened hands? There’ll be no shortage of candidates, including a few no-hopers either deluded as to their own personal brilliance or just keen to have “former leadership contender” on their résumés. And compared to recent contests it’s wide-open, with no clear favorite and a drawn-out process to navigate. Candidates, who must come from the parliamentary party, will be whittled down in a series of ballots of all 358 Conservative lawmakers before the final two fight it out for the support of rank-and-file members. The winner will be the person who wins the support of both those constituencies.

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Dominic Raab, 48. As Brexit Secretary back in 2018, Raab was widely mocked after admitting he hadn’t realized, duh, quite how much Britain relied on the Dover-Calais route for trade with the continent. He then resigned in protest at his own Brexit deal. But that didn’t hold him back: He served first as Foreign Secretary under Johnson and is now Deputy Prime Minister. That makes him favorite to take over as caretaker PM while the Tories elect a new leader—although rivals may not let that happen if he is a leadership candidate, which might hand Johnson a couple more months in Downing Street.

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Rishi Sunak, 42. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer—the minister in charge of the nation’s finances—who helped trigger Johnson’s departure with his resignation on Tuesday. Born to Indian immigrant parents, Sunak was educated at Winchester public school, Oxford, and Stanford: about as posh as it gets. Suave, urbane and super-confident, he was appointed Chancellor in early 2020 just as COVID hit and won praise for protecting British workers and companies during the pandemic. But his reputation among party members took a hit with the revelation his wife—the daughter of an Indian billionaire—claimed special “non-dom” status to avoid U.K. tax on her considerable overseas earnings.

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Penny Mordaunt, 49. Socially liberal Brexiteer with a populist streak who briefly found herself installed as the bookmakers’ favorite to replace Johnson after Sunak’s resignation. A Naval reservist, she’s very popular with grassroots party members, but insiders question whether she can get enough support from Members of Parliament (MPs) to reach the final two in the contest. She was never a fan of Johnson but served under him as a trade minister. Curiously, she has not yet got around to resigning.

<div class="inline-image__title">Foreign Secretary Liz truss visits Estonia</div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street</div>
Foreign Secretary Liz truss visits Estonia
Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street

Liz Truss, 46. Since being appointed Foreign Secretary in a reshuffle last September, Truss has done everything she could to set herself up as a leadership contender, even donning a bulletproof vest and jumping into a tank, Margaret Thatcher-style, on a visit to Estonia. Popular with the grassroots; less so with MPs.

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Ben Wallace, 52. Also seen in military garb, although as a former soldier who is now Defence Secretary he’s got more justification. Wallace, who has worked closely with Johnson to funnel British anti-tank missiles and other weaponry to Ukraine, has repeatedly come top in surveys of the Tory party membership, but it’s not clear what he stands for, politically. He is probably already in the job he was made for.

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Sajid Javid, 52. The son of a Pakistani bus driver, Javid has held several top Cabinet jobs. He is also the only leadership contender to have resigned twice in protest at Johnson’s leadership. Javid quit as Chancellor in 2020 after refusing Downing Street’s demands to sack his advisers and then quit again as Health Secretary on Tuesday in a double resignation with Sunak. “Treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months, and I will never risk losing my integrity,” he told MPs in a resignation speech on Wednesday seen as the unofficial launch of his leadership campaign. Popular both with MPs and party members.

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Nadim Zahawi, 55. Another contender upending preconceptions of the “pale, stale” Tory party. Zahawi arrived in the U.K. as a child, an Iraqi Kurd refugee unable to speak English. Co-founder of the major British polling firm YouGov (which ranked him ninth in a crowded field in a survey of grassroots Tories on Thursday) Zahawi has held a series of ministerial jobs, including overseeing the U.K.’s successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Appointed Chancellor on Tuesday night after Sunak’s resignation, he spent Wednesday promising billions of pounds worth of tax cuts before demanding Johnson’s resignation. The Times of London reported Thursday that Zahawi had been quietly working on his leadership campaign for several months, helped by Australian “election guru” Lynton Crosby.

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Jeremy Hunt, 55. Hunt spent six years as Health Secretary under PM David Cameron before replacing Johnson as Foreign Secretary. He came second to Johnson in the 2019 contest to replace Theresa May and then refused to serve in his Cabinet. Since then he has been on the backbenches, carefully keeping his powder dry. As one of the most experienced ministers and managers in the party, he is a contender; but some might wonder if his ship has not sailed.

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Steve Baker, 51. Top Brexiteer known more as a trouble-maker and backroom plotter than leading man. But Baker, former head of the European Research Group of Tory MPs (it should have been called the Anti-European Research Group), says he has been “implored” to run by his supporters. Hard to see a route to victory for him.

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Suella Braverman, 42. Having served, not with any great success, as Johnson’s Attorney General, Braverman was among the first to throw her hat into the ring to succeed him—prompting mockery from the opposition Labour Party. “Can I say what an honour it is to stand at this dispatch box facing the next Prime Minister as she waits a call from the Palace,” intoned Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry, to laughs from the Commons chamber.

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