Boris Johnson wants 'anyone but Rishi' for next leader

British prime minister said to have expressed fury over former chancellor Rishi Sunak resigning

Former chancellor Rishi Sunak is the frontrunner among Conservative MPs to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister. Reuters
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British prime minister Boris Johnson is running an “anyone but Rishi” campaign to prevent the former chancellor winning the Conservative leadership race, it has been reported.

It is understood that Mr Johnson has become so incensed by Mr Sunak quitting the Cabinet last week that he detests the idea of the current frontrunner among MPs becoming his successor.

While Mr Johnson has been clear not to openly support any candidate — to the point that he has voted by proxy in the leadership MP ballots and thus not attended Parliament in person — it is reported he is strongly against Mr Sunak replacing him.

“The whole No 10 team hates Rishi,” a source told The Times. “It’s personal. It’s vitriolic.

The source said the Downing St team did not blame former health secretary Sajid Javid — who resigned minutes before Mr Sunak on July 5 — for bringing about the end of Mr Johnson's premiership.

“They blame Rishi. They think he was planning this for months.”

The resignation of the two senior ministers led to a flood of more than 50 ministerial resignations and finally Mr Johnson’s 42 hours later.

It has been also reported that Mr Johnson has spoken to a number of candidates no longer in the leadership race making it clear that he did not want Mr Sunak to succeed him.

Mr Johnson is a major supporter of Ukraine and has an excellent personal relationship with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He is said to fearful that Mr Sunak would offer concessions to Russia and “go soft” on President Vladimir Putin.

But Whitehall sources have indicated that Mr Johnson has not instructed any campaign against any particular candidate in the leadership contest and will not publicly endorse any of the five remaining runners.

The five candidates left in the Conservative leadership race. From left, Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak, Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt. AFP

However, political observers believe that he would prefer to see his Foreign Secretary Liz Truss installed as the next prime minister — although his reasons for this are unclear.

“It might be that she is pretty ineffective making Boris look like he was good prime minister and if she fails that paves the way back for him,” a political insider told The National.

There have been a series of personal attacks on Mr Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Ms Truss, the leading three contenders to become leader, and this is likely to intensify as the leadership race reaches its conclusion in voting by Conservative MPs on Wednesday next week.

Conservative Party members will then vote on the two remaining candidates.

Former Cabinet minister and Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost has launched a bitter attack on Ms Mordaunt by suggesting that when he worked with her in government, she “wasn’t up to the job”.

However, The National understands that from her brief period as defence secretary in 2019, Ms Mordaunt was respected for making clear-headed decisions and raising considered policy reforms.

“She was certainly not work shy,” a source told The National. “She was also a unifying figure, not at all divisive.”

A Whitehall source said briefing against Ms Mordaunt and others in the race could be counter-productive. “Tory MPs like nothing less than being dictated to — they will often react badly,” said the source.

Updated: July 15, 2022, 1:06 PM