LONDON: Rishi Sunak, one of the two contenders to replace British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Monday (Aug 1) defended his decision to quit the government and help end Johnson’s scandal-tarnished leadership.
Allies of Johnson accuse Sunak of treachery for stepping down as UK Treasury chief last month as the government floundered amid ethics scandals, with a resignation letter, saying “we cannot continue like this.” More than 50 government ministers went on to quit, leaving Johnson no choice but to resign as Conservative Party leader.
Polls of Conservative members put Foreign Secretary Liz Truss ahead of Sunak in the contest to succeed Johnson as party leader. Postal ballots started arriving on Monday at the homes of about 180,000 party members who will decide the winner. The new leader will be announced on Sep 5 and will automatically become prime minister.
Sunak said his critics were “looking at the last few months of the government with slightly rose-tinted glasses.” He said “the government found itself on the wrong side of a very serious ethical issue.”
Johnson led the Conservatives to a commanding parliamentary majority in 2019, but he has been plagued by scandals since then, and was fined by police over parties that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules. He clung to power for months but finally quit on Jul 7 after one scandal too many – appointing a politician accused of sexual misconduct – drove his ministers to resign en masse.
Sunak is running as an experienced minster who can guide the country through the economic turbulence caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. He was the favourite candidate among Tory lawmakers who whittled down the field of candidates from an initial 11 contenders.
But Truss now appears to have more momentum and has won backing from several high-profile lawmakers and Cabinet ministers with her pledges to slash taxes and government bureaucracy.