Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss will be next British PM: Tory leadership race

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Britain’s Conservative Party chose its two finalists on Wednesday in the contest to replace Boris Johnson, as the divisive, unrepentant leader ended his final appearance in Parliament as prime minister with the words “Hasta la vista, baby.”

Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss were the last two candidates left standing to replace Johnson from an original field of eight, it was revealed on Wednesday.

Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt was eliminated from contention, finishing with 105 votes from MPs. Sunak received 137 votes, while Truss garnered 113 votes.

The two contenders will spend the next few weeks campaigning for the votes of about 180,000 Conservative Party members around the country, who will vote by postal or online ballot. The winner of the party leadership vote will be announced Sept. 5 and will automatically become prime minister.

The bitter campaign has exposed deep divisions in the Conservative Party at the end of Johnson’s scandal-tarnished three-year reign. Opponents have branded Sunak a “socialist” for raising taxes in response to the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Sunak has hit back that his rivals are peddling economic “fairy tales.”

The contenders are all trying to distance themselves from Johnson, whose term in office began boldly in 2019 with a vow to “get Brexit done” and a resounding election victory, but is now ending in disgrace.

Johnson loyalist vs. cabinet member who resigned

Sunak quit his Treasury post earlier this month after questioning Johnson’s competence and ethics.

At 42, Sunak would be the youngest prime minister for more than 200 years and the country’s first South Asian leader. Sunak was born in Southampton, on England’s south coast, in 1980 to Indian parents who were both born in East Africa.

An instinctive low-tax politician, he nonetheless forked out billions in government money to keep people and businesses afloat during the pandemic.

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak meets with Conservative Party members and activists, in Teesport, Redcar on July 16. If he wins the party vote, Sunak would become the youngest British prime minister, and the first of South Asian origin. (Lee Smith/Reuters)

His furlough program, which paid the salaries of millions of workers when they were temporarily laid off, made him the most popular member of the government. But critics said his campaign to get people to eat in restaurants after lockdown restrictions were eased in the summer of 2020 contributed to another wave of COVID-19.

He also has faced questions about his wealth and finances. His wife, Akshata Murty, is the daughter of the billionaire founder of Indian tech giant Infosys, and the couple is worth 730 million pounds ($1.13B Cdn), according to the Sunday Times Rich list. In April it emerged that Murty did not pay U.K. tax on her overseas income.

If Truss wins, she would become Britain’s third female prime minister. She has forged her image in homage to the first, Margaret Thatcher.

As foreign secretary, Truss has been front and centre in Britain’s support for Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia over the invasion of its neighbour. Two British nationals jailed in Iran have also returned home during her tenure.

Liz Truss, second from right, receives applause from her team near Parliament in London on Wednesday. Truss will be the third female prime minister if selected by a majority of Conservative who vote by a Sept. 2 deadline. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

Truss, 46, has also figured prominently in the U.K.’s feud with the European Union over post-Brexit trade arrangements. Her pugnacious approach — along with her promises to slash taxes and boost defence spending — have made her the favourite of the party’s strongly euroskeptic right wing.

Opponents criticize her as a dogmatist and a wooden public speaker. She ran unsuccessfully for Parliament twice before being elected to represent the eastern England seat of Southwest Norfolk in 2010.

In Britain’s 2016 referendum on whether to leave the European Union, Truss backed the losing “Remain” side, in contrast to Sunak. But she has served in Johnson’s staunchly pro-Brexit government as trade secretary and then foreign secretary, and has won the support of the Conservative Party’s most fervent Brexiteers.

Labour gets final digs in on Johnson

Parliament adjourns for the summer on Thursday.

Johnson, who quit July 7 after months of ethics scandals but remains caretaker leader, faced derisive opposition politicians and weary Conservatives at his last Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons.

WATCH l ‘Greatest privilege of my life’: Johnson defends record one more time:

Boris Johnson addresses Parliament as prime minister for last time

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses Parliament during his last appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions after being forced to resign over COVID-19 protocol controversies.

Supportive Conservative backbenchers lobbed praise and opposition politicians offering variations on “good riddance.”

Johnson extolled what he called his accomplishments — leading Britain out of the European Union and through COVID-19, and supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion — and declared: “Mission largely ;accomplished, for now,” before departing with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “hasta la vista” catchphrase from Terminator 2.

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said: “I will miss the delusion.”

Johnson urged to resign immediately

Johnson clung to office through months of scandals over his finances and his judgment, refusing to resign when he was fined by police over government parties that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules.

He finally quit after one scandal too many — appointing a politician accused of sexual misconduct — drove his ministers to resign en masse.

WATCH l A look at Boris Johnson’s legacy:

Boris Johnson resigns as PM after years of scandal

In front of a jeering crowd, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck a defiant tone while announcing his resignation after a run of scandals throughout his tenure.

Despite remaining prime minister, he has largely disappeared from the scene, even as Britain faces a summer cost-of-living crisis and labour discontent as inflation hit 9.4 per cent, per the latest economist report.

Johnson did not attend any government emergency meetings about the heat wave that brought temperatures of 40 C to Britain this week. Last week he took a ride in a Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jet, with Top Gun-style footage released by his office, then threw a weekend party at Chequers, the country house that comes with the prime minister’s job.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who represents the opposition Labour Party, accused Johnson of wanting to “become Tom Cruise” and urged him to resign immediately.

“We need a full-time prime minister looking after our country rather than somebody who’s checked out,” Khan said.

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