Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing increased pressure to resign over ‘partygate’ and accusations that he intervened to help evacuate animals from Afghanistan.
Mr Johnson has dismissed the reports that No 10 were involved in the Nowzad charity flight efforts as “total rhubarb”.
Tom Tugendhat is reportedly favoured by centrist Tory MPs to replace Mr Johnson, with the former soldier and MP for Tonbridge and Malling confirming on Saturday that he would run for leader if there was a contest soon, adding it would be a “huge privilege” if he became PM.
But who else is being suggested? Here are some of the potential candidates.
Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Rishi Sunak has been installed by bookmakers as an early favourite to replace Boris Johnson. He was named Chancellor shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began and created the furlough scheme and other financial support systems during lockdown.
Last week, Mr Sunak said he believed the Prime Minister’s words over his knowledge of the alleged Downing Street parties and added that he “wasn’t going to get into hypotheticals” when asked if Mr Johnson should resign if he is found to have lied to Parliament.
Mr Sunak has been out of the media spotlight this week, with reports suggesting he is taking an “arms-length” approach to the PM.
Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary and Women and Equalities Minister
Liz Truss prompted comparisons with former prime minister Margaret Thatcher in November after she was pictured sitting in an Army tank during a trip to Estonia.
The former international trade secretary was promoted to the Foreign Office in September last year after Dominic Raab was criticised for his handling of the Afghanistan crisis.
During an interview on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday, Ms Truss said she was “100% supportive” of the Prime Minister and wants him “continuing doing the job”.
Jeremy Hunt, chairman of the Health and Social Care Select Committee
Jeremy Hunt has held numerous Cabinet roles, his most recent being foreign secretary in Theresa May’s government until May 2019.
He launched a leadership bid in 2019 after Mrs May’s departure but came second to Mr Johnson.
In an interview last week with The House magazine, the former health secretary reportedly denied actively considering a run, before adding: “I won’t say my ambition has completely vanished, but it would take a lot to persuade me to put my hat into the ring.”
Penny Mordaunt, trade minister
Penny Mordaunt could be a potential successor for Mr Johnson despite recent legal threats against her and the Government by Tory donor Alexander Temerko.
Mr Temerko said he would bring unspecified legal action against Ms Mordaunt personally, describing her as the “biggest threat to security” after she successfully campaigned against a £1.2 billion cross-Channel power cable project Aquind, a company he is a director of, has proposed. Her response was: “I’m happy to be judged on my record.”
Ms Mordaunt has held several Cabinet positions including defence secretary and is reportedly “well-liked” among the so-called Red Wall MPs elected at the 2019 general election.
Sajid Javid, Health Secretary
Sajid Javid is also a seasoned Cabinet member, having served in David Cameron and Theresa May’s governments.
He outlined his political aspirations in 2016 and 2019 by launching leadership bids. In 2016, he ran a joint campaign with Stephen Crabb but the pair later withdrew. In 2019 he came in fourth behind Mr Johnson, Mr Hunt and Michael Gove.
Since his appointment as Health Secretary in June last year, Mr Javid has supported Mr Johnson but admitted on Sky News that Tory grandee David Davis calling for the Prime Minister to step down was “damaging” for the Government.
Nadhim Zahawi, Education Secretary
Nadhim Zahawi has been a familiar face during the pandemic after being appointed vaccine minister in November 2020.
His success in the role – which saw him providing updates to Parliament on the vaccine rollout and hosting Downing Street press conferences – led to a promotion to Education Secretary during the Cabinet reshuffle last September.
He has backed the PM during interviews, and said during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he believed Mr Johnson was safe in his role “because he’s human and we make mistakes”.
Michael Gove, Secretary for Levelling Up
Like Mr Javid, Michael Gove has held a series of Cabinet positions and launched a leadership bid in 2019 after Theresa May resigned. He finished third.
In 2016, he announced he would back Mr Johnson as new Tory leader and prime minister following Mr Cameron’s resignation, only to announce he was running himself two hours before Mr Johnson made his leadership pitch official, scuppering his friend’s chances.
Mr Gove has denied Mr Johnson should tender his resignation over the Downing Street party saga and claimed there is “no evidence of any abuse of levelling up funding” after Christian Wakeford, an MP who defected to Labour, alleged he was warned funding could be cut for a new school in his constituency if he rebelled in a vote over free school meals.
Mr Gove also told MPs on Monday he was “solid, 100%, totally behind the Prime Minister.”
Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee
Tom Tugendhat has been critical of the Government, most recently over its handling of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The former soldier, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, has been tipped before as a potential option to take over as party leader, with reports of a senior Tory MP describing it as a “relief” if he took over.
On Saturday, he was asked if he would still like to be PM, after expressing an interest in the past, and said: “It would be a huge privilege.”