Rishi Sunak ‘passes threshold of 100 MPs’ as Penny Mordaunt and Boris Johnson battle to reach target

·4-min read
 (ES composite)
(ES composite)

Rishi Sunak was leading the race to become the next Prime Minister on Friday night as he reached the 100-nomination threshold to make it to the next stage of the Tory leadership contest, according to a campaign source.

The former Chancellor, who has not formally declared his announcement to run, was said to have passed the threshold just before 10pm on Friday night after a string of influential Tories declared their support.

A total of 42 MPs had publicly backed Boris Johnson while 21 had backed Penny Mordaunt, according to a tally by the BBC. Every candidate will need the support of at least 100 MPs to progress to the next round, in which the Tory members will vote for the next PM in an online poll.

The Standard could not independently verify the claim made by Mr Sunak’s campaign.

Elsewhere, momentum was continuing to build for Mr Johnson after four Cabinet ministers expressed their support. Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Transport Secretary Anne Marie Trevelyan and Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg all indicated they would support his return to No10.

International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch and former Home Secretary Suella Braverman are also considering backing Mr Johnson in a move that could solidify his position as the favoured candidate of the Tory right, according to the Telegraph.

The former Prime Minister, who is currently on holiday in the Caribbean, is said to be planning to return to the UK to launch his campaign over the weekend.

Sir James Duddridge, a Conservative MP, said he had been in contact with Mr Johnson on WhatsApp.

“He's going to fly back. He said, 'I'm flying back, Dudders, we are going to do this. I'm up for it'.”

But other influential Tories urged Mr Johnson to step back from the leadership contest.

Lord Moore, a close friend of the former PM, wrote in the Telegraph: “It might be a good idea if history repeated itself. I can see Boris storming back in different circumstances, with a Labour government in disarray and a lack-lustre Tory opposition seeking renewal. I don’t see it working right now. True Boris fans will have the courage to tell him to sit this one out.”

And veteran backbencher Sir Roger Gale, a long-time critic of Mr Johnson, warned that if the former PM succeeds he could be met with a wave of resignations by Tory MPs.

A return for Mr Johnson would be beset with challenges, not least the inquiry into whether he lied to the Commons over the partygate scandal, for which he was fined by police.

If found guilty by the Commons Privileges Committee, he could face recall proceedings that would leave him battling for his seat in the Commons if he receives a suspension of 10 days or more.

Meanwhile, a Tory source told the Financial Times that Mr Johnson would be “open” to meeting Mr Sunak and discussing a deal to avoid the pair facing off in the final round, amid fears the party would “rip itself to shreds”.

Mr Sunak resigned from Mr Johnson’s Government in July, precipitating a string of ministerial resignations that led to his downfall. He has since faced accusations from Tory MPs and members since that he “backstabbed” the former Prime Minister, with the issue proving highly divisive during the summer leadership contest.

Several former Cabinet ministers announced their support for Mr Sunak on Friday, including ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid.

“The only way for our party to reclaim our values and recover our reputation for stewardship is to move on from the mistakes of the past and come together to focus on the future,” he said.

He was also backed by former ministers Johnny Mercer, Chris Philp and ex-Justice Secretary Dominic Raab.

Ms Mordaunt became the first MP to publicly declare her intention to run, saying she could give Britain a “fresh start”. She pledged to “unite our country, deliver our pledges and win the next General Election”.

She has already held talks with Jeremy Hunt and assured him he can stay on as Chancellor if she becomes prime minister, it is understood. She has also assured him that she would deliver the medium-term fiscal plan as proposed on October 31, a source close to the Commons leader said.