Boris Johnson and former finance minister Rishi Sunak were leading the potential contenders to replace British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Friday, with candidates canvassing support to become Conservative Party leader in a fast-tracked contest.
After Truss quit on Thursday, ending her six weeks in power, those who want to replace her were trying to find the 100 votes from Conservative lawmakers needed to run in a contest that the party hopes will reset its ailing fortunes.
With the Conservatives all but facing a wipeout in the next national election according to opinion polls, the race is on to become the fifth British premiere in six years.
The winner will be announced on either Monday or Friday next week.
In what would be an extraordinary comeback, Johnson, who was ousted by lawmakers just over three months ago, was running high up the ranks alongside Sunak to be crowned the next prime minister.
“I think he’s got that proven track record to turn around things. He can turn it around again. And I’m sure my colleagues hear that message loud and clear,” Conservative lawmaker Paul Bristow said of Johnson on LBC radio.
“Boris Johnson is the character the Labour Party fears, Boris Johnson can win the next general election,” he said.
Johnson, who left office comparing himself to a Roman dictator brought into power twice to fend off crises, might face difficulty in reaching the 100 votes after his three-year tenure was blighted by scandals and allegations of misconduct.
One of his former advisers, who no longer speaks to Johnson and requested not to be identified, said he was unlikely to reach the target, having alienated dozens of Conservatives during his scandal-ridden tenure.
But Will Walden, who also worked for Johnson, told Sky News the former prime minister was returning from holiday and was taking soundings.
The contest began on Thursday, just hours after Truss stood in front of her Downing Street office to say she could not go on.
Sunak, the former Goldman Sachs analyst who became finance minister just as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Europe, is a favourite with bookmakers, followed by Johnson. Running in third is Penny Mordaunt, a former defence minister popular with Conservative Party members.