Rishi Sunak takes swipe at Boris Johnson as he declares Tory leadership bid

The former chancellor's statement follows late night talks with his opponent

Tory leadership hopefuls Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. PA
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Boris Johnson is said to remain determined in his bid for 10 Downing Street on Sunday, despite his rival Rishi Sunak having the upper hand in the race to become prime minister.

The pair were reportedly locked in talks on Saturday evening to see if they could reach a deal, but no agreement was reached.

Mr Sunak has gained the support of Conservative Party “big beasts” and appears ahead of Mr Johnson in terms of the number of MPs supporting him.

The former chancellor officially announced he was running on Sunday, vowing to fix the economy, reunite the divided Tory party and deliver change for Britain.

He appeared to take a swipe at his opponent when he said there would be “integrity, professionalism and accountability” in a government run by him. Mr Johnson's time in office was marred by the “Partygate” saga, among other scandals.

Mr Johnson, who has yet to officially declare his bid, dashed back to the UK on Friday after Liz Truss resigned as leader of the Conservative Party on Thursday. She will remain as prime minister until her successor is sworn in, which will happen by Friday.

Nominations for the Tory leadership race will close at 2pm on Monday.

Penny Mordaunt is also competing in the contest, but is trailing Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg on Sunday insisted Mr Johnson will stand in the Tory leadership race.

“I have been speaking to Boris Johnson, and clearly he’s going to stand, there’s a great deal of support for him,” he told the BBC.

Boris Johnson’s campaign team reportedly told supporters on Sunday evening they had secured the 100 nominations needed from MPs for the former prime minister to get on the ballot paper.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has sent a WhatsApp message to supporters confirming they have the numbers, according to The Sun’s political editor Harry Cole.

Mr Heaton-Harris told them: “OK everyone! Some very good news! Thanks to all your hard work I can confirm we have completed all the paperwork (verified all nominations, with proposer and seconder) to be on the ballot tomorrow.”

However, supporters of former chancellor Rishi Sunak reacted to the claim with suspicion, suggesting it was a desperate attempt to drum up support.

Sunak vows to fix UK economy

Mr Sunak announced his campaign for Downing Street on Twitter on Sunday, declaring that the UK “is a great country but we face a profound economic crisis.”

“That’s why I am standing to be leader of the Conservative Party and your next prime minister,” he said.

“I want to fix our economy, unite our party and deliver for our country.”

Mr Sunak sought to use his experience as chancellor during the Covid-19 pandemic as the platform for his bid.

“I served as your chancellor, helping to steer our economy through the toughest of times,” he said. “The challenges we face now are even greater. But the opportunities, if we make the right choice, are phenomenal.

“I have the track record of delivery, a clear plan to fix the biggest problems we face and I will deliver on the promise of the 2019 manifesto.

“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.

“I am asking you for the opportunity to help fix our problems. To lead our party and country forwards towards the next general election, confident in our record, firm in our convictions and ready to lead again.”

Home Secretary Grant Shapps on Sunday became the latest Conservative stalwart to come out in support of Mr Sunak.

Mr Shapps, who previously served as transport secretary in Mr Johnson's Cabinet, said the UK needs a leader “who can provide stability and proven economic competence in these challenging times and Rishi Sunak is that person.”

Suella Braverman, who Ms Truss sacked as home secretary, also announced she was backing Mr Sunak.

“Things need to change. We, as a party, need to change,” she wrote in the Telegraph. “We need to provide leadership, stability and confidence to the British people.

“We cannot indulge in parochial or nativist fantasies.”

She said Mr Sunak would be a leader who would “inspire hope for a better future and raise our spirits”.

Deal or no deal?

Multiple media reports suggested Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak held late night discussions on Saturday to try to reach a deal on a joint ticket for Downing Street.

Tory MPs are said to have urged the pair to the negotiating table as the party has suffered badly from infighting.

But reports on Sunday indicated the talks had not been fruitful.

Mr Johnson held a call with Tory MPs backing him early on Sunday, telling them he is “still going for it”. One MP on the call told The Telegraph that there's “no doubt” he's still in the race.

Dominic Raab, who served as Mr Johnson’s deputy prime minister, said he was not expecting a pact between his former boss and Mr Sunak, whom he is backing.

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Gatwick Airport on Friday. Reuters

Asked if the pair had done a deal during Saturday’s meeting, Mr Raab told the BBC: “No, I don’t think there’s any issue around deals here and that’s not the right way to proceed.”

Pressed further, Mr Raab asked: “What would that deal involve?”

He went on to highlight the “range” of support Mr Sunak has among Tory MPs, adding: “What they did have was a very good conversation about the need for unity.”

Mr Raab said while he would support Mr Johnson’s return to front-line politics it would not be practical given the continuing inquiry into whether the former prime minister misled MPs on lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.

“I’d love to see Boris Johnson come back to front-line politics, I’m speaking personally,” Mr Raab said.

“But we have this major issue which led to him having to resign, which is partygate, and in a matter of days, not weeks, he’s going to see televised witness testimony, including his own, which is going to take him right back into that spiral.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has come out in support of Mr Johnson.

Mr Cleverly said the last few weeks have demonstrated that the job of a prime minister is “tough” and given that Mr Johnson has “learnt lessons from his time in No10" he is the right person for the job. He said Mr Johnson “will ensure the focus is on the needs of the country from day one.”

“I will be supporting him to return to the role of PM,” he added.

Updated: October 24, 2022, 5:31 AM
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