Runners and riders – the early favourites to replace Boris Johnson as PM

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As the dust settles on an explosive few days in Westminster, culminating in the resignation of Boris Johnson as Tory leader, talk has already turned to who will replace him as prime minister.

Rishi Sunak on Friday became the first of the big hitters to publicly state an intention to stand, though others have been regarded as manoeuvring for this moment for considerable time.

Here are some of the early contenders for the post:

– Ben Wallace

Ukraine – Russian tensions
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is the favourite, according to YouGov (Ian West/PA)

The early frontrunner, according to many bookmakers, with some offering odds as low as 9/4 on him getting the leadership, while another firm reported more than half of all bets in that market had been placed on Mr Wallace.

The latest YouGov poll also regards him as the favourite.

The Defence Secretary is thought to have significant support among Westminster colleagues who like his straight-talking and straightforward approach, though he does not have the cross-departmental experience of his rivals.

The Johnson loyalist, who served in the Scots Guards, remains a key voice in the UK’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and this increased exposure could assist any leadership bid.

– Penny Mordaunt

F-35 Lightning jets overseas deployment
Penny Mordaunt was sacked as Defence Secretary by Boris Johnson, but is among the favourites to replace the PM (Jacob King/PA)

Ms Mordaunt was Mr Wallace’s predecessor as defence secretary, and the first woman to hold the post before being sacked by Mr Johnson shortly after becoming Prime Minister in 2019.

Ms Mordaunt has many strings to her bow, she is a Royal Navy reservist, the current trade minister and a former reality TV contestant, having appeared on the Tom Daley-fronted diving show Splash.

She played a prominent role in the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, and has previously reportedly enjoyed the backing of Dame Andrea Leadsom among others.

She remains among the early favourites, and second only to Mr Wallace in the YouGov poll.

– Rishi Sunak

Pre-Budget leaks
Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor, is among those tipped for the top job (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Sunak announced his leadership bid on Friday, with the message: “Let’s restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country.”

One of the main front-runners, attracting odds of 4/1 with several bookmakers, the former chancellor’s rise from relative obscurity to household name came as he turned on the spending taps to protect jobs through the furlough scheme when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

His calm and measured delivery during televised Covid briefings, and his viral declaration of love for a popular soft drink, will have endeared him to those perhaps not always plugged in to the political goings-on, as well as his resignation on matters of principle on Tuesday.

– Liz Truss

Liz Truss meets Baltic Foreign Ministers
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has previously signalled her leadership ambitions (Hollie Adams/PA)

The Foreign Secretary kept her powder dry as the Tory top brass turned on the mortally wounded Prime Minister, despite being a Johnson loyalist, though she did cut short a foreign trip to Indonesia to head back to Westminster as he announced his resignation.

Social media aficionado Ms Truss has made little secret of her leadership ambitions, with a series of high-profile interventions and photo opportunities in which she appeared to be channelling late PM Margaret Thatcher.

She has the experience of working across many Whitehall departments, while her hard line on Ukraine, insisting Russian forces must be driven from the country, and threats to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol with the EU play well with sections of the party.

– Sajid Javid

Windrush generation immigration controversy
Sajid Javid has held many roles in Government (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Undeclared, but understood to be seriously considering a leadership bid, he is perhaps buoyed by the response to his clinical farewell speech in the Commons on Wednesday, after his and Mr Sunak’s double-resignation effectively kickstarted the slew of departures from government, thus hastening Mr Johnson’s demise.

State school-educated Mr Javid, known as “The Saj” in some circles, is the son of a bus driver who arrived in England from Pakistan in the 1960s, and held ministerial roles in housing, business and culture before becoming chancellor, and then health secretary in the middle of the pandemic.

Mr Javid made it to the final four in the contest to replace Theresa May as Tory leader in 2019, but dropped out and subsequently endorsed Mr Johnson.

He told reporters after his resignation on Tuesday evening that he was looking forward to spending time with his family – but for how long?

– Nadhim Zahawi

Downing Street turmoil
New Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi is regarded by many as a safe pair of hands (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

An outside bet among the bookies, the former education secretary is regarded by some as a “safe pair of hands” if other candidates prove too divisive.

Indeed, he was the man trusted to take on the broadcast round of interviews on Wednesday morning, on his first full day in his new job as chancellor, before later urging the PM to resign.

Iraqi-born Mr Zahawi was a successful businessman and came to wider prominence as vaccines minister during the pandemic where he was credited with playing a key part in the successful rollout of the jab.

– Tom Tugendhat

Foreign Affairs Committee in NI
Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat was the first to declare an interest in standing (Niall Carson/PA)

Not a household name, but among the early contenders.

The multi-lingual chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee became the first to announce his intention to stand for leader should Mr Johnson be turfed out, with his declaration made in January, a position he repeated in Friday’s Daily Telegraph, saying he was putting together a “broad coalition” offering a “clean start”.

His odds shortened almost immediately as a result.

The former soldier wrote in the paper: “I have served before, in the military, and now in Parliament. Now I hope to answer the call once again as prime minister.”

A Remainer in 2016, the former soldier has been a trenchant critic of Mr Johnson, a stance that would appear to have cost him any chance of ministerial preferment under the current leadership.

– Steve Baker

Boris Johnson resignation
Steve Baker, a Brexit die-hard, is among the outside bets for leader (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Prominent Brexiteer and former minister Steve Baker, a senior Tory backbencher, confirmed on Thursday that he is seriously considering putting himself forward for the top job.

He told PA that Tory blog ConservativeHome “consistently put me in their top ten for next Prime Minister, they sometimes put me in their top five”, but said it would be “very difficult” to persuade colleagues to back him for the party-wide ballot without Cabinet experience.

Mr Baker successfully plotted to oust Theresa May as prime minister but, despite his credentials as a Brexit die-hard, he is not a household name.

– Suella Braverman

Suella Braverman seeks injunction
Attorney General Suella Braverman is among the few to publicly declare her intentions (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Attorney General launched an unlikely leadership bid as support for Mr Johnson crumbled around him on Wednesday night.

Ms Braverman, who was first elected as an MP in 2015, is regarded as something of an outsider for the leadership given the party grandees already tipped to be in the running.

A Suella Braverman for PM Twitter account has sprung up, with Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne becoming the first to tweet his support for her bid.

– Jeremy Hunt

Sunday Morrning
Jeremy Hunt has extensive Cabinet experience (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)


The former foreign secretary and ex-health secretary has been a persistent backbench critic of Mr Johnson and has called on the Prime Minister to quit.

Mr Hunt is widely expected to make a fresh bid for the leadership, having been runner-up to Mr Johnson in 2019, though is seen as a bit of a Thatcher reboot.

As chairman of the Commons Health Committee, he has used his position to make a number of critical interventions on the Government’s handling of the pandemic, although his strong support for lockdown measures will not have pleased all Tory MPs.

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