‘Not the right time’: Johnson pulls out of leadership race – Sunak could be PM as early as today

UK

Boris Johnson has pulled out of the Conservative leadership race.

His withdrawal leaves the path open for Rishi Sunak, who has a chance of picking up the keys to Downing Street as early as today.

The former prime minister had the public backing of 59 Tory MPs – far short of the 100 required to be included on the ballot.

The most Johnson way of admitting defeat

After a mad dash back from his Caribbean holiday, a flurry of canvassing, secret summits with rivals Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, and a significant pro-Johnson air war campaign, Boris Johnson announced shortly before 9pm on Sunday night he was not going to go for being PM again after all.

It was the most Boris Johnson way of admitting defeat: I am a winner who could deliver a Conservative victory in 2024, I have the numbers (he claimed 102 supporters), I could do it if I wanted to, but now is not the time.

Read Beth’s full analysis here.

Path to No 10 opens for Sunak – live updates

Mr Sunak has more than 150 backers, a significant lead over Penny Mordaunt, who has 25.

If both of them secure support from at least 100 MPs by this afternoon, Conservative Party members will have the chance to vote for their preferred candidate.

We’ll find out at 2pm who has made it on to the ballot – and if Mr Sunak is the only one to reach this threshold, he will automatically become the UK’s third prime minister this year.

More on Boris Johnson

You can find out more about today’s key timings here, with live coverage on Sky News throughout the day.

In his statement, Mr Johnson said he had “cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations”, but came to the conclusion that “this is simply not the right time”.

Mr Johnson also said there was a “very good chance” he could have been back in No 10 by the end of the week if he had stood.

However, he said he had “reached out” to leadership rivals Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt to see if they could work together in the national interest, but it had not proved possible.

Mr Johnson added that although he was “attracted” to run because of the support from his colleagues, “you can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament”.

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What would it take to force a general election?

In response, Mr Sunak tweeted: “Although he has decided not to run for PM again, I truly hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad.”

One of Mr Johnson’s key allies told Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby that he had said he thinks two-thirds of the party are against him and that he would be unable to govern like Liz Truss initially.

Another ally said the anti-Johnson coalition in parliament is “very loud” and “very motivated”.

The first Johnson backer to publicly switch to Mr Sunak was Nadhim Zahawi, the former chancellor, who tweeted “a day is a long time in politics”.

He had only endorsed Mr Johnson on Sunday morning.

Read more:
Why Johnson dropped out – in his own words
Who are bookies backing to be the next PM?

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Johnson a ‘guaranteed disaster’

On Sunday, several long-time allies of Mr Johnson – including Suella Braverman and Steve Baker – threw their support behind Mr Sunak.

Mr Baker, the former head of backbench Brexiteers, had warned Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday that a potential comeback by Mr Johnson would be a “guaranteed disaster”.

Ms Mordaunt’s team are now hoping the departure of Mr Johnson will see a swathe of MPs who were backing him – or are yet to declare – swing behind her.

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A campaign source confirmed she was still in the running, arguing she is the candidate that Labour fears the most.

“Penny is the unifying candidate who is most likely to keep the wings of the Conservative Party together and polling shows that she is the most likely candidate to hold onto the seats the Conservative Party gained in 2019,” the source said.

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