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Rishi Sunak Formally Announces Leadership Bid As Senior Tory Says Johnson Would Be A "Guaranteed Disaster"

Rishi Sunak has formally announced his leadership bid (Alamy)

6 min read

The former chancellor has confirmed he will stand in next week's leadership election as he builds significant support among Tory MPs.

Rishi Sunak has formally declared his intention to stand following reports he held talks with Boris Johnson on Saturday evening to discuss a potential joint ticket.

Announcing his leadership bid on Sunday morning, Sunak said: "The United Kingdom is a great country but we face a profound economic crisis.

"The choice our Party makes now will decide whether the next generation of British people will have more opportunities than the last."

Highlighting his work as chancellor during the Covid pandemic, Sunak said he had helped "steer our economy through the toughest of times".

"The challenges we face now are even greater. But the opportunities - if we make the right choice - are phenomenal."

He added: "There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of the government I lead and I will work day in and day out to get the job done."

Speculation that a deal could be struck comes as Boris Johnson's camp claim the former PM has broken through the threshold of 100 MPs needed to secure a place on the ballot, despite public declarations from MPs sitting at around 60.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is backing Johnson said: "Clearly he is going to stand, there is a great deal of support for him as you have seen."

He added: "The people doing the numbers for Boris's campaign tell me they have got the numbers, so the 100 that is necessary for MPs is there."

In a boost to Johnson's campaign, he picked up the support of former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, who credited him with "getting the big calls right" on Covid and Ukraine, and praised his decision to resign "for the sake of unity" in the party.

Boris JohnsonJohnson has reportedly been contacting wavering MPs to assure them that a second stint in Downing Street would not be marred with the same scandals which brought him down earlier this year, with Zahawi saying he had been "contrite and honest" about his mistakes in the final weeks of his premiership.

He added: "When I was Chancellor, I saw a preview of what Boris 2.0 would look like. He was contrite & honest about his mistakes. He’d learned from those mistakes how he could run No10 & the country better.

"With a unified team behind him, he is the one to lead us to victory & prosperity."

But Johnson's campaign have struggled to allay fears that an upcoming probe by the Commons Privileges Committee into his conduct during the partygate scandal could destroy his political career.

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, senior Brexiteer Steve Baker, who was a vocal backer of Boris Johnson during his leadership, said he was now backing Sunak because selecting Johnson would be a "guaranteed nailed-on disaster" for the party.

"He's bound to implode, taking the whole government down. Boris Johnson would be a guaranteed disaster. I'm not willing to lay down my integrity for Boris Johnson," Baker said.

"I think it would be for the best if Boris did something big and statesmanlike."

He added: "What we can't do is have him as prime minister in circumstances where he's bound to implode, taking down the whole government with him.

"I'm afraid the trouble is because of the (Commons Privileges Committee) vote, Boris would be a guaranteed disaster."

The comments add further weight to Sunak's campaign as he continues to win the backing of significant figures from across the party spectrum, including from International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who proved popular with MPs on the right of the party in the summer leadership contest.

Sunak has already broken through the threshold required to get onto the ballot on Monday, with over 130 MPs already publicly announcing their support for him.

The battle between the two Tory heavyweights comes as the party struggles to unify after Truss's disastrous stint in Downing Street shattered public trust in their ability to manage the economy, and pushed Labour to historic poll leads.

Penny MordauntMeanwhile, Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, who announced her bid on Friday, continues to struggle to build support with only 24 MPs currently publicly backing her.

Despite stuttering support, Mordaunt told the BBC she was "very confident" about her chances of winning the contest, saying she was "best placed to unite our party".

"I was a halfway house between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak and I deeply regret that the debate now is about 'are you for stability or low taxes'," she said.

"That's not the right construct. There are two sides of the same coin. You have to have stability in order to deliver low tax and you have to have low taxes in order to grow the economy and create that stability."

But Mordaunt, who has already committed to keeping Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor if she wins, struggled to set out a coherent policy plan as she refused to be drawn on health and defence spending commitments. And she also refused to say whether she would raise benefits in line with inflation, despite committing to the move at the Conservative Party conference three weeks ago.

Whoever wins next week's contest is likely to face significant public and political pressure to commit to an early general election following months of chaos at the top of the Conservative Party.

But speaking on Sunday, Labour leader Keir Starmer admitted his party were not able to force the government to call an early general election, saying instead that Tory MPs should "put their country first" by backing calls for an early poll.

"They've got a choice to make. They can either put their party first, or their country first," he told the BBC.

"The country needs change, the country needs stability, the country needs to get rid of this chaos. It has been going on for the best part of 12 years. We don't need another change at the top of Tory party, we need a change of government."

Taking aim at the "ridiculous, chaotic circus" at the top of the Tory Party, Starmer insisted his party were prepared they could repair the "real mess" in the economy.

"My focus is on the millions of people who are struggling to pay their bills, have now got additional anxieties about their mortgage - I know what it feels like not to be able to pay your bills, that happened to me and my family when I was growing up," he said.

"They are fed up to the back teeth with this."

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