LONDON — The race to succeed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson intensified on Monday as several senior Conservative Party politicians came forward with promises to stick to his approaches to Brexit and illegal migration while they look at ways to to stimulate economic growth.
Former finance chief Rishi Sunak, who helped spark the wave of resignations of ministers and advisers that forced Mr Johnson to resign, took the lead early on by receiving at least 30 public endorsements from other Tory politicians.
Opposing him are Secretary of State Liz Truss and Chancellor of the Exchequer Nadhim Zahawi, along with eight other candidates, all hoping to be in the top two after several rounds of voting by Conservative lawmakers ahead of the late July parliamentary recess. To officially enter the competition, candidates must get 20 other lawmakers to support them when nominations begin on Tuesday. The first ballot will take place on Wednesday.
The two finalists will then travel across the country to win a majority of the votes from the Conservative Party’s 150,000 members. The winner is expected to be announced on September 5th. Mr Johnson will remain prime minister until his successor is elected.
The 11 declared candidates are all expected to convey a fundamental message: that they support many of the policies Mr Johnson is implementing, including a plan to send illegal migrants to Rwanda and seek to break the UK’s divorce deal from the European Union to revise Abolition of customs controls on goods transported between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Mr Johnson – who remains popular with members of the Tory party – said on Monday he would wait with backing a candidate.
Few of the candidates have Mr Johnson’s branding power with UK voters. However, Mr Sunak rose to prominence in the UK during the pandemic when he launched a popular job support scheme.
Tax increases have become an early dividing line. Political analysts expect the latest round of the contest to unfold as a showdown between a centrist candidate, who tends to emphasize fiscal stability by maintaining tax increases passed under Mr Johnson’s government, and one driven by the party’s libertarian wing supported, they want to turn around and push for a smaller state.
Mr. Sunak, as Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, oversaw these tax hikes, which are designed to raise taxes as a percentage of economic output to the highest level since the late 1940s. He has argued that the tax hikes are necessary to cover a growing deficit in the public coffers and that sudden cuts could stoke rising inflation. He advocates tax cuts when the economy is healthier.
Ms Truss has promised “low taxes and tight control of spending” with an immediate payroll tax cut. The current chancellor, Mr Zahawi, said he would like government agencies to cut spending by 20% to fund tax cuts.
The candidates will only appeal to a section of the electorate – party members who pay a fee to belong. They tend to be male, older and less ethnically diverse than the UK population as a whole.
The field of candidates includes more ethnic minorities than any previous conservative leadership campaign. Only three of the candidates are white males.
Former Equality Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who is black, could prove to be a key figure in the race after garnering the support of several high-profile members of the party, including former Housing Secretary Michael Gove.
Mr Sunak is the son of Indian immigrants who were born in Africa and moved to Britain in the 1960s. Other candidates include former health minister Sajid Javid, who was born in England to Pakistani migrants. Home Secretary Priti Patel, who was born in London to Ugandan-Indian parents, is also anticipating a run.
Candidates and their supporters are already going after rivals. Some Tory MPs circulated a document over the weekend questioning Mr Sunak’s conservative values and saying he held a US green card as Britain’s chief financial officer. While this is legal, some think it challenges his patriotism. A spokeswoman for Mr Sunak said he returned the green card last year ahead of his first trip to the US as chief financial officer.
Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi said on Sunday he had been slandered after media reports over the weekend suggested British authorities were investigating his tax affairs. The former businessman promised to release his tax returns when he becomes prime minister. Premiers doing this are unusual in the UK
The Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee, which oversees leadership challenges, sets the terms of Monday’s various votes, including how many lawmakers must support a candidate before he can officially run. Some Tory officials prefer a high bar to ensure the field narrows quickly. Others want to make it as easy as possible for wildcard entries.
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