Boris Johnson has dropped out of the race to lead the UK’s ruling Conservative Party and the nation, leaving Rishi Sunak poised to become the next prime minister.
Johnson, who left office last month after a series of scandals rocked his position as prime minister, said in a statement that “it simply would not be the right thing to do” to make a bid because it would divide his party.
“You cannot govern effectively unless you have a united party in Parliament,” Johnson wrote in a statement Sunday. “The best thing I can do is not allow my nomination to go forward.”
The pound extended gains after Johnson said it would not hold, rising 0.8% to $1.1388.
The decision leaves Sunak facing House of Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt in the race, with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer enjoying public support from key Conservative members of Parliament. Mordaunt will stay in the race, a person familiar with the matter said after Johnson’s departure.
Whoever wins will be faced with the task of trying to bring unity to a party that has endured months of turmoil and public infighting. Support from the Conservatives has trailed far behind Labor’s opposition in the polls as a brutal cost-of-living decline and runaway inflation darken the economic outlook.
Prime Minister Liz Truss’s decision to resign last week set off the competition, following weeks of market turmoil with investors dumping the pound and UK government bonds. Her economic plan, which includes a big boost in borrowing to pay for tax cuts, has shaken confidence in the markets and turned voter sentiment even more against the Tories.
The possibility that Johnson could mount a successful bid to return to a post he left less than two months ago is the latest twist in the turmoil in British politics that followed the 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
Johnson cut short a vacation last week to consider running for his old job, rallying support from cabinet ministers including Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg. While he remains popular with Conservative members, MPs are divided over his legacy and worry that his return to office will revive all the scandals that bought him.
Johnson insisted he had the support to move to a members’ vote, but said doing so could deepen divisions within the parliamentary party.
“I led our party to a massive electoral victory less than three years ago,” Johnson said. “There was a very good chance that he would succeed in the election with a member of the Conservative Party. But over the course of the last few days, sadly, I have come to the conclusion that this simply would not be the right thing to do.”
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