Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss

Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak arrives at an office building in London, Britain July 20, 2022.

Former finance minister Rishi Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss will battle to become Britain’s next prime minister after winning the final vote in lawmakers, setting up the final stage of the contest to replace Boris Johnson.

Sunak has led every round of voting among Tory lawmakers, but it is Truss who appears to have taken the lead so far among the 200,000 ruling party members who will ultimately pick the winner.

The home stretch of a week-long contest will pit Sunak, a former Goldman Sachs banker who has raised the tax burden to the highest level since the 1950s, against Truss, a Brexit convert who has pledged to cut taxes and regulations.

Whoever triumphs when the result is announced on September 5 will inherit some of the toughest conditions in Britain for decades. Inflation is on track to reach 11% per year, growth is stagnating, social movements are multiplying and the pound is close to its historic lows against the dollar.

Britain under Johnson, and aided by Truss, has also taken a hard line against Brussels in its post-Brexit negotiations around Northern Ireland, drawing legal action from the European Union and threatening future trade ties. .

Eleven candidates initially put forward their names, but in a fifth and final round of voting by Tory lawmakers on Wednesday, young trade minister Penny Mordaunt was eliminated. Sunak won 137 votes, compared to 113 for Truss and 105 for Mordaunt.

Polls show Truss would beat Sunak in the party membership contest, opening up the possibility that the Tories might elect a leader who was not the most popular choice for lawmakers.

Truss thanked some lawmakers outside parliament shortly after the votes were announced. “I’m in it, to win,” she told reporters. In a statement, she added: “As Prime Minister, I would take to the field from day one, unite the party and govern in accordance with Conservative values.”

Sunak said on Twitter: “Grateful that my colleagues trusted me today. I will work day and night to carry our message across the country.”

Mordaunt, who had just eight votes behind Truss, called for the party to unite after an often ugly leadership race.

“Politics is not easy. It can be a divisive and difficult place,” she said in a statement. “Now we all need to work together to unify our party and focus on the job that needs to be done.”

British Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership candidate Truss leaves her London home
Britain’s Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership candidate Liz Truss leaves her home in London, Britain July 20, 2022.

ELECTION CAMPAIGN

The two finalists will now begin weeks of jostling across the country before the party joins.

“This has been one of the most unpredictable contests to become the next Conservative leader in recent history,” said Chris Hopkins, director of political research at polling firm Savanta ComRes. “It’s been very different from recent contests where you’ve had a clear favorite with him.”

The vitriol between the candidates also raises the question of how well any new leader will be able to govern, with Johnson still popular with many in the party and the country, and the party increasingly divided between its various factions.

Johnson was forced to resign after losing the support of his lawmakers following months of scandals, including breaches of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown rules.

Sunak, who has helped steer the economy during the pandemic, may not find an indulgent crowd among party members, with many blaming him for triggering Johnson’s downfall with his resignation earlier this month.

He has also faced criticism over everything from his record in government to his wife’s wealth.

Truss might find it difficult to fight against Sunak, who is more relaxed in public appearances. On Sunday she admitted she might not be “the most skilled presenter” but “when I say I’m going to do something, I do it”.

The race so far has centered on promises or non-commitments to cut taxes, at a time when many parts of the state are struggling to function, as well as defense spending, the energy policy, Brexit and social issues such as transgender rights.

With both candidates holding senior positions in Johnson’s government, they may also be limited in their ability to present themselves as a fresh start.

Pollster Hopkins said a new party leader “normally gets a little bump in the polls, but it will be an uphill battle to recover support because this government has been badly damaged.”

British Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt launches leadership campaign in London
Britain’s Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt speaks during an event to launch her campaign to be the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister, in London, Britain July 13, 2022.

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