Rishi Sunak has thrown his hat into the ring to become Tory leader with a promise to rebuild trust following the tumultuous premiership of Boris Johnson.
The former chancellor quit on Tuesday, helping to trigger an avalanche of ministerial resignations. He announced his bid on Twitter, saying: “Let’s restore trust, rebuild the economy and reunite the country.”
His move came as allies of former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was runner-up to Mr Johnson in 2019, said he was “virtually certain” to stand again this time.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson was continuing to resist demands to stand down as Prime Minister and hand over to his deputy, Dominic Raab, until a permanent successor is in place.
Mr Sunak released a glossy launch video in which he set out his family history, saying: “Our country faces huge challenges, the most serious for a generation.
“And the decisions we make today will decide whether the next generation of British people will also have the chance of a better future.”
He has the backing of Commons Leader Mark Spencer, who said Mr Sunak has the “vision and the ability to take us through dark economic times”.
The Conservative MP for Sherwood told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “Rishi’s got the skills, he’s got the ability, he’s got the experience, and I think he’s got the vision that we need to pull the country together and to get us moving in the right direction.”
Former Tory Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden, ex-minister Liam Fox and MP Paul Maynard also threw their support behind Mr Sunak’s leadership bid.
Why I’m backing Rishi 👇
— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) July 8, 2022
They all shared a link to Mr Sunak’s campaign website, www.ready4rishi.com.
It appears that a site with a slightly different name, www.readyforrishi.com, which redirects to the official campaign page, was set up in December 2021.
Mr Sunak’s team said domains are bought all the time, adding that they had been transferred a number of them.
Asked how advanced Mr Sunak’s campaign was, Mr Spencer told PM he had not been approached by the former chancellor until “very late last night”.
He added: “There are a lot of people expressing support for him and I’m sure they’ll be declaring in the very near future.”
Mr Spencer said there were “no secrets” to Mr Sunak, adding “there are no skeletons in that cupboard”.
Mr Sunak, whose name on Twitter now reads “Ready For Rishi”, enters what is likely to be a crowded field, with more than a dozen MPs either having announced their intentions or thought to be considering a run.
Even before he made his formal announcement, he had come under fire from Johnson loyalists, with Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg denouncing him as a “high tax chancellor” who failed to curb inflation.
Mr Sunak had been resisting pressure from No 10 to cut taxes, arguing it would simply fuel rising prices. In his video he said the Government could not afford to lull voters about the difficulties ahead with “comforting fairy tales”.
“Do we confront this moment with honesty, seriousness, and determination, or do we tell ourselves comforting fairy tales that might make us feel better in the moment but will leave our children worse off tomorrow?” he said.
“Someone has to grip this moment and make the right decisions. That’s why I’m standing to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and your prime minister.”
Mr Sunak’s announcement saw bookmakers Ladbrokes install him as their joint favourite to succeed Mr Johnson alongside Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
The absence of a clear front-runner has tempted a number of less-fancied contenders to step forward – with backbencher John Baron the latest to say he will be “taking soundings” over the weekend.
Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, and Attorney General Suella Braverman have already said they will be putting their names forward.
More are expected in the coming days including Mr Sunak’s successor as Chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Following elections to the executive of the backbench 1922 Committee on Monday, the new body will draw up a timetable for the leadership election.
After his acrimonious resignation speech on Thursday, many MPs are anxious to see Mr Johnson out of No 10 as quickly as possible – fearing a summer of “chaos” if he remains.
Downing Street however insisted he would not stand aside to allow Mr Raab to take over as a caretaker prime minister.
Labour has confirmed that it will table a Commons vote of no confidence in the Government if Mr Johnson refuses to go voluntarily.
However in order to succeed it would require Tory MPs to vote with them – or at least abstain in large numbers – which would appear unlikely given it could lead to a general election they were likely to lose.
Nevertheless the leadership contest may be shorter than in previous years.
The first phase, with a series a secret ballots by MPs whittling down the list of candidates to a final two, is expected to be concluded by July 21 when the Commons breaks for the summer.
It will then go to a final postal ballot of party members in the country. It is thought likely that it will be concluded by the time Parliament returns in early September.
Downing Street announced a series of new ministerial appointments to Mr Johnson’s caretaker Cabinet on Friday.
This included a role for Peter Bone, whose supportive intervention amid a mutinous atmosphere in the Commons earlier this week stood out so much that even Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle remarked he was a “lone batter” for the Government.
He has been made deputy Commons leader – a post that had not been formally held since 2018, according to the official Government website.
James Duddridge, who said it had been a “real honour” to serve as parliamentary private secretary to the Prime Minister, has been made a Government whip.