Who could replace Boris Johnson if he loses leadership vote?

Conservative Party would choose new leader and prime minister

Rishi Sunak, right, received a fine for the same birthday event as Boris Johnson during the Partygate scandal. PA
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Defeat for Boris Johnson in Monday's confidence vote in Britain would fire the starting gun on a race to succeed him as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister.

Even in victory, Mr Johnson would know he has dozens of rebels on his own benches, and previous prime ministers who have won confidence votes have sometimes left office soon afterwards anyway.

Although his Cabinet colleagues rallied around him after Monday's vote was called, some of Mr Johnson's ministers might throw their hat in the ring if there were a contest to replace him.

Under party rules, Tory MPs would whittle the list of candidates down to two, with the party membership at large then choosing between the finalists.

Rishi Sunak, 42, Chancellor of the Exchequer

A rising star of the party when he took over Britain’s finances in 2020, the brand-conscious Mr Sunak has used slick social media posts to polish his fashionable and forward-thinking image.

He was for a time one of the government’s most popular figures after unleashing billions of pounds to shield people from unemployment during the pandemic. But recent economic woes have damaged his standing.

Although he has publicly defended Mr Johnson, there has been much speculation about a rift between the two, and his clean image was tarnished by a Partygate fine and revelations about the tax status of his super-rich Indian wife.

Liz Truss, 46, Foreign Secretary

Political survivor Ms Truss has served in several Cabinet roles since 2014, outlasting prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May and seeing two Tory leadership contests and three general elections.

Like Mr Sunak, she has been known to embrace a photo opportunity – notably riding in a tank in frozen Estonia in an image evoking former prime minister and Conservative icon Margaret Thatcher.

She has taken a hard line on Russia during the war in Ukraine, and her firm stance in post-Brexit negotiations over Northern Ireland has frustrated the EU but plays well with the right of the party.

Liz Truss rode in a tank when visiting British troops deployed in Estonia last year. Photo: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Jeremy Hunt, 55, former health secretary

Mr Hunt was the runner-up in the last Tory leadership election in 2019, having pitched a more serious and conciliatory style of leadership compared to Mr Johnson’s showmanship.

Demoted to the back benches after losing that contest, he has criticised Mr Johnson over cuts to foreign aid and questioned the government’s coronavirus policies in his new role as chair of a parliamentary health committee.

Mr Hunt said he would vote against Mr Johnson in Monday’s ballot because the party is “no longer trusted by the electorate”, but has not said whether he would seek the leadership for a second time.

Tom Tugendhat, 48, foreign affairs committee chair

Former soldier Mr Tugendhat openly admitted his leadership ambitions in January, saying it would be a “huge privilege” to be prime minister.

A relatively fresh face because he has never held ministerial office, Mr Tugendhat used his position as chair of a foreign affairs committee to criticise Mr Johnson’s government over last year’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Although not a cheerleader for Brexit, he recently distanced himself from a call by a fellow backbench MP to rejoin the EU’s single market, in what was taken by some as positioning for a potential leadership race.

Tom Tugendhat bemoaned the situation in Afghanistan during an emergency debate last August. AFP

Penny Mordaunt, 49, junior trade minister

Ms Mordaunt has been speculated about as a potential unity candidate, having served quietly under Mr Johnson without being one of his most visible spokespeople.

A Royal Navy reservist and former magician’s assistant, she became the UK’s first female defence secretary in 2019 but served for only a few weeks because of the fall of Theresa May’s government shortly afterwards.

Her social media accounts were conspicuous for their silence on the leadership question on Monday, advertising her presence at commemorative D-Day events instead of endorsing Mr Johnson.

Britain's International Development Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt leaves 10 Downing Street after attending a Cabinet meeting in London on April 23, 2019. (Photo by Isabel Infantes / AFP)

Ben Wallace, 52, Defence Secretary

Mr Wallace, a former soldier, has been praised by colleagues for his response to the war in Ukraine and his popularity has soared among party members.

Described by admirers as calm and competent, he has been loyal to Mr Johnson during Partygate and said he would support the prime minister in Monday’s vote.

Asked about his high approval ratings last month, he said he was happy in his defence role and said: “I doubt I’d want to be prime minister – but I am a politician so you can read that answer as you’d like.”

Ben Wallace has been praised for his low-key competence during the war in Ukraine. EPA

Nadhim Zahawi, 55, Education Secretary

Mr Zahawi won a promotion to the Cabinet last year after helping to run Britain’s successful vaccination programme against Covid-19.

His personal story, as a former refugee from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq who arrived in Britain as a child, sets him apart from many of his colleagues.

He was one of Mr Johnson’s most vocal defenders after the confidence vote was announced on Monday, but recently said it would be a privilege to one day become prime minister.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi was promoted to the Cabinet after his role in distributing coronavirus vaccines. PA
Updated: June 06, 2022, 1:31 PM