Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss Will Compete to Replace Boris Johnson


The two emerged as the final candidates after five rounds of voting, and now will try to win over an electorate that had wearied of Mr. Johnson’s seemingly endless scandals.

LONDON — Britain’s Conservative Party narrowed the field for its next leader on Wednesday, advancing two candidates to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson after a scandal-scarred tenure that ended with his government in disarray and the country adrift at a time of deepening economic crisis.

Rishi Sunak, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, and Liz Truss, the current foreign secretary, emerged as the two finalists after five rounds of voting by Conservative lawmakers whittled the original field of 11 candidates. The two will now compete to succeed Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a vote of the party’s rank-and-file membership, with the results announced in early September.

Ms. Truss edged out Penny Mordaunt, a little-known middle-ranking minister who mounted an unexpectedly vigorous campaign, promoting herself as a breath of fresh air after three turbulent years under Mr. Johnson. Ms. Mordaunt was eliminated after winning 105 votes, while Ms. Truss had 113 and Mr. Sunak 137.

It was Mr. Sunak’s resignation two weeks ago set in motion the events that brought down Mr. Johnson, but neither he nor Ms. Truss represent much of a break with the departing prime minister in terms of policy. Both will face questions from a Conservative electorate which once savored Mr. Johnson’s shambling style but had recently grown frustrated with the seemingly endless parade of scandals in his government.

The contest captures both the party’s diversity and its raw divisions. Mr. Sunak, a 42-year-old of South Asian ancestry, would become the first person of color to occupy 10 Downing Street if he wins. He voted in favor of Britain’s exit from the European Union in the 2016 referendum. Ms. Truss, a 46-year-old who began her political career as a Liberal Democrat, voted to remain in the union but has since became a zealous Brexit convert.

Mr. Johnson, for his part, made a jaunty, self-congratulatory last appearance at Prime Minister Questions in Parliament, taking credit for winning the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987, for getting Brexit done, and for steadfastly supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia.

“Hasta la vista, baby!” he said to lawmakers, borrowing a familiar sign-off from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also famously said, “I’ll be back.”

How successfully Mr. Sunak and Ms. Truss escape Mr. Johnson’s shadow may determine their success in the next six weeks of campaigning. That may pose a bigger challenge to Ms. Truss, who sat alongside Mr. Johnson in the House of Commons on Wednesday and has stayed in his cabinet when several others quit.

Mr. Sunak will likely present himself as a responsible steward of the nation’s finances during a period of extreme stress, with surging inflation and the specter of recession. His victory caps a remarkable comeback from a few months ago, when he came under sharp criticism for the disclosure that his wife, Akshata Murty, the daughter of an Indian billionaire, did not pay taxes on all her income in Britain.

Ms. Truss will be viewed as the candidate of hard-line Brexiteers, pursuing aggressive negotiations with the European Union over trade in Northern Ireland. She will also likely play up her hard-power credentials as foreign secretary during the war in Ukraine.

At a recent televised debate, she was the only candidate to say she would be willing to sit down with President Vladimir V. Putin at a summit meeting of the Group of 20 industrial countries in November.

“It is very important that we have the voices of the free world facing down Vladimir Putin,” Ms. Truss said. “I was prepared to face down Sergey Lavrov,” she added, referring to the Russian foreign minister. She said she would call out Mr. Putin “in front of those very important swing countries like India and Indonesia.”

Despite his significant lead among Conservative lawmakers in Wednesday’s ballot, Mr. Sunak is not the oddsmakers’ favorite to win the next phase of the contest when he and Ms. Truss must hustle for the votes of party members thought to number around 160,000 people.

Aside from his personal wealth, which could jar with voters at a time of growing pressure on their own finances, critics claim that the tax increases Mr. Sunak introduced risk plunging the country into recession. He contends that sound public finances are vital to control inflation after the government spending splurge during the pandemic.

And Mr. Sunak might also suffer from the role he played in helping to oust Mr. Johnson by resigning from the cabinet. Many party members retain an affection for the departing prime minister despite recent scandals, are grateful for the landslide victory he delivered in 2019, and might be reluctant to replace him with a former ally who turned against him.

Mr. Johnson has suggested that his own lawmakers made an irrational decision in choosing to remove him, and some of his closest allies have made no secret of their antipathy toward Mr. Sunak. One of them, Jacob Rees-Mogg, pointedly refused to deny that, during a cabinet meeting, he had characterized Mr. Sunak’s taxation policy as Socialist.


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