Rishi Sunak could be named the third Prime Minister of 2022 within hours after Boris Johnson ruled himself out of the contest to become the next Conservative leader.
In what could have been one of the most astonishing political comebacks in years, the former PM - forced to resign just weeks ago surrounded by allegations of sleaze and deepening controversy in the Partygate scandal - was favoured as a genuine contender in the race to replace Liz Truss.
Truss herself resigned last week after less than 50 days in office, following a brief premiership which started badly, and only got worse.
So what does it mean for the race now that the Tory “Big Dog” won’t be competing for a return? Here is everything you need to know.
Has Boris Johnson pulled out?
While Johnson was never officially in the race, he was seen to be Sunak’s closest rival, and would likely have gained the second highest level of support from fellow MPs behind the former chancellor.
But the former PM abruptly dropped out of the campaign despite never officially entering, saying he had the numbers to stand, but would not be able to unite his warring party.
In a statement on Sunday (23 October) evening, he said there was a "very good chance" he could have returned to No 10 by the end of the week if he had run. But Johnson said his efforts to "reach out" to his opponents to collaborate in the national interest had been futile, and that he was withdrawing.
“I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024,” Johnson said, “and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations, including a proposer and a seconder, and I could put my nomination in tomorrow.
“There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members – and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.
“But in the course of the last few days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.”
Johnson said that due to the failure to reach a deal with Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, “I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds. I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”
What happens now?
Tory MPs will vote on who they want to be their new leader in the first round of the latest leadership election today (24 October), assuming more than one candidate reaches the threshold of a 100 nominations.
Now Johnson has ruled himself out of the contest, Penny Mordaunt remains the only other candidate to have officially declared their intentions to take on Sunak. With the deadline for nominations closing in the next few hours, it is highly unlikely any other candidates will step forward at this late stage.
However, Mordaunt’s chances of garnering enough MP support to take the contest to a run-off with Sunak look doubtful. Although Johnson’s withdrawal could give the Leader of the House of Commons a boost, with many of his supporters potentially now backing her, estimates on Sunak’s level of support put him at a clear advantage.
The latest estimates suggest has received almost 140 public pledges of support, while Mordaunt had received less than 30 on Sunday night. If she fails to reach 100 nominations by the deadline of 2pm - or withdraws from the race - Sunak will take over the Conservative Party without the need for a vote.
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