British prime ministers are not directly elected by the country’s 68 million people but are instead chosen by the party that wins the most lawmakers in the general election. Right now that’s the Conservative Party, which won the 2019 vote in a landslide.
Johnson’s successor, as leader of the Tories, will be chosen first by fellow lawmakers who will whittle down the candidate list to a final runoff between two contenders. Then a postal ballot among the party’s some 180,000 members will select the new leader.
The process will likely take several weeks, determined by a timetable set by the 1922 Committee, which represents backbench lawmakers who are not on the government payroll.
The Conservatives would look for a leader “a bit less exciting” than Johnson, Tony Travers, professor of government at the London School of Economics, told Reuters.
“Less exciting, but competent,” he said
Based in part on a poll of Tory members conducted by YouGov on Wednesday, here are the current front-runners in the race to become the U.K.'s next prime minister:
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Rishi Sunak, 42, said he had decided to “grip the moment” by announcing his leadership bid in a campaign video on Friday. He promised to rebuild the economy and restore trust in the Conservative Party.
He also said he wanted to give everyone the opportunities the U.K. gave to his immigrant grandmother. Some hardline Tories may not welcome this broadly pro-immigrant message.
After introducing an economic rescue package, including a costly job retention program that averted mass unemployment during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sunak was the favorite to become the next leader. But a series of unpopular economic policies, as well as revelations that his multimillionaire wife had not been paying British taxes, caused his popularity to plummet.
Sunak and Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, were the first two high-profile Cabinet ministers to tender their resignations Tuesday night.
Tom Tugendhat, 49, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, announced his leadership bid in the Daily Telegraph, saying he would offer the party a “clean start.”
The consistent Johnson critic would offer Conservatives a fresh start, but he is relatively untested, having never served in the government. He served as a soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq.
He voted against Brexit, which Johnson campaigned for and ran on.
Penny Mordaunt is the second most-popular potential contender among Tories, according to the YouGov poll.
Johnson fired her as defense secretary within three months of his taking office after she endorsed his rival, Jeremy Hunt, in the 2019 election.
Mordaunt, 49, a Royal Navy reservist, rejoined the Cabinet later and is currently a junior trade minister. She is a staunch Brexit supporter and campaigned prominently for the U.K. to leave the European Union ahead of a referendum on the subject in 2016.
Even though Mordaunt hasn’t officially entered the race, she's described as a “dark horse” to take over the Conservative Party’s leadership.
On Thursday, amid feverish speculation about Johnson's future and as a flood of resignations sought to force him to step down, she preached calm.
“Our institutions are strong,” she wrote on Twitter. “There will be a resolution to this. The outcome is already known.”
She appeared on “Splash,” a reality TV contest in which celebrities learn to dive.
Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss, 46, who has been at the forefront of the British response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is a favorite of grassroots Conservatives.
At first, she opposed Brexit but later, after a 2016 referendum on the move, said she had decided to support leaving the European Union.
Truss spent the first two years of Johnson’s leadership as the secretary of state for international trade. She was appointed Britain’s lead negotiator with the E.U. last year, taking an increasingly tough line as talks over the U.K.’s relationship with the continent grew more fractious.
Truss said Johnson had her "100% backing" on Tuesday, but by Thursday, when he announced he was capitulating to pressure to quit, she supported his decision to step down.
While she said the government under Johnson had “many achievements,” Truss also called for calm as she welcomed his decision to step down within minutes of the resignation being announced.
“We need calmness and unity now and to keep governing while a new leader is found,” she wrote on Twitter.
Attorney General Suella Braverman, 42, a hardline Brexit supporter, said on live TV that she would toss her hat in the leadership race ring. She has come under heavy criticism for seeking to break international law over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.
She made headlines when she called for the U.K. to “complete Brexit” in the wake of a European Court of Human Rights decision to block a government plan to deport immigrants to Rwanda.
Kemi Badenoch, 42, was elected member of Parliament in 2017 and has held junior ministerial posts, including her current one of equalities minister, addressing discrimination and gender inequality. She announced her bid in The Times, promising to “tell the truth.”
She resigned last week in a joint move with four other members of the 2017 parliamentary intake and is among the younger potential contenders.
Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, 55, Johnson’s rival during the 2019 election, said earlier this year his ambition to become the prime minister “hasn’t vanished completely.”
Hunt was also health secretary and chaired Parliament's Health Select Committee.
Hunt, who was against Brexit, said he voted against Johnson in June's no-confidence vote, which the prime minister won by a smaller-than-expected margin. He is seen as one of the more moderate contenders to replace Johnson.
Nadhim Zahawi, 55, faced a whirlwind of career changes this week after he was appointed education secretary on Monday and promoted to the chancellor of the exchequer on Tuesday.
In a remarkable move, Zahawi publicly called for Johnson to resign less than 36 hours after accepting the number two job from the embattled prime minister when Sunak quit.
Long seen as a potential candidate, this week’s machinations have been seen by some analysts as damaging his standing within the party and with the public.
Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, 52, was the first to resign from Johnson’s Cabinet on Tuesday. In an impassioned speech in Parliament on Wednesday, he said the problem “starts at the top.”
Javid has also had a stint as finance minister. He finished fourth in the 2019 leadership contest.
Hard-line Home Secretary Priti Patel, 50, who handled policing, terrorism and immigration, did not quit ahead of Johnson's resignation, and said that her job demanded that she focus on the “the business of the government and our national security.”
A high-profile figure who is deeply disliked by supporters of the opposition Labour Party, Patel has sought to crack down on immigration during her time in office, and was seen as a staunch Johnson loyalist.
Ben Wallace, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove
Ben Wallace, 52, Dominic Raab, 48, and Michael Gove, 54, were seen as leadership contenders but have announced they were not interested in the top job.
Gove, who was the "leveling up" housing and communities secretary, was fired on Wednesday after asking Johnson to quit.
Raab, the deputy prime minister, has been restrained from serving as the interim prime minister after Johnson declared his intention to stay on until the next leader takes the helm.
Wallace on Saturday announced he would not run to become party leader, having emerged as the favorite among Conservatives.
“After careful consideration and discussing with colleagues and family, I have taken the decision not to enter the contest for leadership of the Conservative Party,” he wrote in a tweet. “My focus is on my current job and keeping this great country safe.”