Rishi Sunak to be the next prime minister as Penny Mordaunt withdraws from race

New Tory leader tells MPs to unite, after Mordaunt falls 10 short of nominations needed

Kate Devlin,Adam Forrest
Monday 24 October 2022 15:54 BST
Rishi Sunak becomes UK’s third prime minister this year
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Rishi Sunak will be the UK’s next prime minister after Tory rival Penny Mordaunt withdrew from the contest.

Ms Mordaunt had been the only other MP left in the race after Boris Johnson dramatically pulled out on Sunday night, but faced an uphill battle to secure the nomination of 100 MPs by 2pm.

By mid-morning the writing appeared to be on the wall when senior backer George Freeman called on her to pull out for the sake of “unity”.

A Mordaunt campaign spokesperson claimed she finished on 90 nominations – 10 short of the number needed.

The Commons leader decided to withdraw minutes before the 2pm deadline when reality dawned. “We didn’t have the numbers. It was close to the wire,” said the spokesperson.

In a statement on Twitter, Ms Mordaunt said MPs had made it clear “we need certainty today” rather than face a membership vote this week. “They have taken this decision in good faith for the good of the country,” she said.

Mr Sunak had 202 publicly-declared backers by the 2pm deadline. His campaign wouldn’t give a precise final total of MPs giving support, but said it was “over 200”.

Mr Sunak is expected to become prime minister in the coming hours. Government sources have suggested Mr Sunak is likely to meet the King and take over as prime minister on Tuesday – but a handover on Monday evening is also possible.

The PM-in-waiting warned Tory MPs in a behind-closed-doors meeting that they face “an existential threat” of election defeat unless they can win back the public’s trust – and have only “one shot” to do so.

“He was pleased but he underscored the urgency of the situation we’re in. He said … the country will only give us one shot to get things back on track,” Tory MP Laura Farris told Sky News.

Simon Hoare MP said Mr Sunak would not call a general election, but he gained the strong impression the de-facto budget planned for next Monday will go ahead.

Ms Mordaunt said “Rishi has my full support.” She added: “We all owe it to the country, to each other and to Rishi to unite and work together for the good of the nation. There is much work to be done.”

The leadership race was hastily arranged after the shock resignation of Liz Truss last week. Ms Truss tweeted her congratulations to Mr Sunak, reassuring him “you have my full support”.

But opposition parties said a coronation was “antidemocratic” and demanded a general election, as pressure mounts on the government to give voters a say.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, repeated her party’s call for a general election, tweeting: “Nobody voted for this.”

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said Tory MPs had “installed another out-of-touch prime minister with no plan to repair the damage and without giving the British people a say”.

The SNP has said the Tories “cannot be allowed to impose a third prime minister without a general election”. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “He should call an early general election. And he should not – must not – unleash another round of austerity.”

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts said: “The antidemocratic nature of the Westminster system has been laid bare for all to see. Rishi Sunak has no mandate, no legitimacy. Democracy demands a general election.”

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, said it was “difficult to think of a prime minister with less of a mandate to govern than Rishi Sunak, our fifth in six years – a man who was resoundingly rejected less than two months ago by Tory members”.

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