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Who could replace Boris Johnson as UK’s next prime minister?

Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Hunt and Liz Truss among top contenders after scandal-ridden Johnson’s resignation

Prime Minister Boris Johnson enters 10 Downing Street, after announcing his resignation, July 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson enters 10 Downing Street, after announcing his resignation, July 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON (AFP) — Boris Johnson resigned on Thursday as leader of Britain’s Conservative party, paving the way for the selection of a new prime minister after dozens of ministers quit his scandal-hit government.

“It is clearly the will of the parliamentary Conservative party that there should be a new leader of that party, and therefore a new prime minister,” Johnson said outside 10 Downing Street.

Johnson, 58, announced that he would step down after a slew of resignations from his top team in protest at his leadership but would stay on as prime minister until a replacement is found.

While several possible successors have been suggested, there is no clear favorite.

Rishi Sunak

The UK’s first Hindu chancellor of the exchequer, who quit on Tuesday, was until recently the bookmakers’ favorite.

Britain’s then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak speaks during a press conference following the 2021 Budget, in 10 Downing Street, London, March 3, 2021. (Tolga Akmen/Pool Photo via AP, File)

But his prospects were dented by questions over his private wealth and family’s tax arrangements. His resignation has seen him return as one of the bookies’ frontrunners for the top job.

Sunak, 42, has a high profile on social media, and won plaudits for shoring up the economy during the pandemic.

But his refusal initially to authorize more support over a surging cost-of-living crisis has hurt his popularity.

Jeremy Hunt

Former foreign and health secretary Jeremy Hunt, 55, lost to Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest, when he branded himself as the “serious” alternative.

Hunt sent a thinly veiled campaign message for a new leadership bid last month, arguing that under Johnson “we are no longer trusted by the electorate” and “we are set to lose the next general election.”

But the fluent Japanese speaker lacks Johnson’s charisma. His pre-pandemic record as health secretary was recently savaged by a Johnson ally.

Britain’s then-Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on July 22, 2019. (Adrian Dennis/AFP)

Liz Truss

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, 46, is popular among Conservative party members, liked for her outspokenness and willingness to go on the political attack.

But that has also stoked questions about her judgment, for instance when in February she encouraged Britons to fight in Ukraine. Critics say her leadership posturing is too overt.

When she headed the Department for International Trade, some MPs dubbed it the “Department for Instagramming Truss” because of her prolific output on the social media site.

Away this week at a G20 meeting, she has reportedly cut her trip short to return to Westminster and make a statement later Thursday.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss delivers a speech during the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, on March 1, 2022. (SALVATORE DI NOLFI / various sources / AFP)

Sajid Javid

Javid, who also quit as health secretary on Tuesday, had previously resigned as finance minister in 2020.

The 52-year-old is the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver who went on to become a high-flying banker.

Like Sunak, he also faces questions about his personal wealth and tax affairs.

Britain’s then-Health Secretary Sajid Javid speaks during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, October 20, 2021. (Toby Melville/Pool Photo via AP)

Ben Wallace

The defense secretary, 52, has narrowly topped some recent polls of Tory grassroots’ preferred next leader due to his role in the Ukraine crisis.

The former army officer and Johnson ally has downplayed wanting to lead the party but is seen as straight-talking and competent.

Britain’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2021 (Franck Robichon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Nadhim Zahawi

Newly appointed as finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, 55, was praised for overseeing Britain’s pandemic vaccines rollout, before helming the education department.

Zahawi is a former refugee from Iraq who came to Britain as a child speaking no English. Before entering politics, he co-founded the prominent polling company YouGov.

But his private wealth has also drawn adverse attention, including when he claimed parliamentary expenses for heating his horse stables.

Britain’s then-Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi leaves after attending a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London, June 7, 2022 (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

Tom Tugendhat

The former army officer, 49, is a prominent backbencher who chairs parliament’s influential Foreign Affairs Committee.

Tugendhat has indicated he will stand in any leadership contest but there is no love lost between him and Johnson loyalists.

A hawk on China, he has been critical of the government’s handling of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Penny Mordaunt

Mordaunt, 49, is the first woman to have been UK defense secretary and is currently a junior trade minister.

The Royal navy reservist is seen as likely to run but considered a long shot.

A strong Brexit supporter and key figure in the 2016 “Leave” campaign, she has been tipped as a potential unity candidate who could draw support from the Conservative party’s warring factions.

Penny Mordaunt arrives at 10 Downing Street to attend a Cabinet meeting in London on April 30, 2019. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP)

Dominic Raab

Deputy prime minister and justice secretary Dominic Raab, 48, led the country when Johnson was in intensive care in hospital with COVID-19 in 2020.

The former lawyer and karate black belt is seen as a reliable ally.

But his move to justice from the post of foreign secretary was seen as a demotion after he initially failed to cut short a holiday as the Afghan capital Kabul fell to the Taliban.

Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab arrives at 10 Downing Street in London, January 18, 2022. (Alastair Grant/AP)

Suella Braverman

Attorney General Suella Braverman has revealed she intends to stand in a party leadership contest during media interviews since Wednesday in which she urged Johnson to go.

The arch-Brexiteer, 42, is another long-shot candidate, popular within the party for her Euroscepticism.

She is one of 28 so-called “Spartan” Tory MPs, who refused to back ex-prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal on all three occasions it was voted on in parliament.

Suella Braverman, Britain’s Attorney General arrives to attend a cabinet meeting in Downing Street in London, January 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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