Rishi Sunak pledges to remain as backbench MP if he loses Tory leadership contest - 'You must be joking'

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 06: Conservative Leadership Hopeful Rishi Sunak visits Scotland for the first time during the Conservative Party leadership campaign on August 06, 2022 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The results of the Conservative leadership contest, which features Sunak and Liz Truss vying to replace Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, will be announced on September 5. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak at a campaign event in Edinburgh on Saturday. (Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak has pledged to remain as a backbench MP if he loses the Conservative Party leadership contest.

The ex-chancellor, considered the underdog in the contest with Liz Truss, told the Sunday Times “you must be joking” when asked if he would quit UK politics.

If Sunak loses, it’s unlikely Truss would offer him a position in her cabinet - and even if she did, it’s unlikely in any case he would accept a lower-ranking role having previously been in charge of the nation’s finances.

Instead, he has promised to dedicate his time to his constituents in Richmond, north Yorkshire.

“You must be joking, absolutely not,” he told the paper when asked if he could return to America, where he had lucrative work before becoming an MP and still owns a property.

Watch: Liz Truss takes a swipe at Rishi Sunak’s economic legacy

“It is the most unbelievable privilege to have these jobs,” he added. “The people of Richmond are the most amazing people, it is a joy every week to go home to them and to have their love and their support and to be able to represent them properly as their member of Parliament.

“Gosh, it would take a lot for me to give that up.”

It has previously been suggested Sunak would not stick around if his status diminishes. In April, the Daily Telegraph reported a source as saying “he isn’t the sort of person who would stay in Parliament for another 10 years waiting for his chance to come around again” and that “if it became apparent he wasn’t going to be prime minister, he would just go”.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (R) and former chancellor to the exchequer Rishi Sunak, contenders to become the country's next prime minister, take part in the BBC's 'The UK's Next Prime Minister: The Debate' in Victoria Hall in Stoke-on-Trent, central England, on July 25, 2022. (Photo by Jacob King / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JACOB KING/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss at a debate last month. (AFP via Getty Images)

Sunak is thought to be trailing Truss in the contest, with YouGov polling this week suggesting 69% of Tory members intend to vote for Truss.

But he claimed this doesn't reflect the membership's true intentions, telling the Sunday Times: "I’m out all the time, I’m talking to people, it feels different on the ground."

Earlier this week, Sunak faced a furious backlash after leaked footage showed him boasting to Tory members in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, of having diverted funding from “deprived urban areas” towards more prosperous towns.

Read more: Top cabinet minister admits 'I don't know where Boris is' amid dire economic forecasts

Labour and Conservative MPs alike condemned him over the “scandalous” comments.

Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy, the shadow communities secretary, said Sunak was showing his "true colours" while his former government colleague Lord (Zac) Goldsmith - an ally of Boris Johnson, who Sunak helped depose by resigning as chancellor last month - said it was "one of the weirdest - and dumbest - things I’ve ever heard from a politician".

Watch: Rishi Sunak boasts about taking money from 'deprived urban areas' to help wealthy towns

The Sunak campaign fought back, arguing the government’s “levelling up” agenda “isn’t just about city centres, it’s also about towns and rural areas all over the country that need help too".

Truss, meanwhile, declined on Saturday to say whether her campaign was involved in the leaking of the video when asked about it during a visit to the West Midlands, saying only: “I’m running a positive campaign.”