Minister says Boris Johnson can be replaced by end of summer as Tory leadership race begins
ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan reports on the wide-open contest to become the next prime minister as Rishi Sunak joins the growing list of MPs vying for the top job
Boris Johnson can be replaced by the end of August, a senior minister has told ITV News, as the potential successors throw their hat into the forthcoming Tory leadership contest.
The outgoing PM plans to stay in post until October and announce his replacement at the Tory party conference at the start of that month, but the newly-appointed education secretary says Mr Johnson could be out of Downing Street much sooner.
Potential candidates for the Tory leadership are assessing whether they have the support to mount leadership bids, following the resignation of Mr Johnson.
The race to replace him starts officially next week, however it has effectively already begun, with MPs Tom Tugendhat and Suella Braverman already announcing they will run.
James Cleverly, who is this week's third education secretary after Cabinet resignations sparked a game of ministerial musical chairs, said the leadership election process could conclude "well before" the end of summer.
"It needs to be a full process, but there's no reason why that process can't be done quickly as well as professionally," he said.
There are two stages to a Tory leadership race, the first sees MPs nominate their preferred candidates and when only two remain, the final decision is given to party members who vote for their favourite.
"The parliamentary stage of course has got to be done before the House rises later on this month, and then I think that if the wider process is well organised and done promptly... I think that can be done at real pace, which means that actually the new prime minister can be in place well before we come back in the latter part of the summer," the education secretary said.
He told ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt that it will be "hard work" for the candidates.
With no clear frontrunner, around a dozen potential candidates – including backbenchers as well as ministers – are thought to be weighing in on the challenge.
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Meanwhile there is growing pressure from senior Conservatives for Mr Johnson to immediately step down as prime minister and not wait for the election of a new leader.
Following the tumultuous events in Westminster, some MPs fear a summer of “chaos” if Mr Johnson remains in No 10 while the leadership contest – which could run for weeks or even months – plays out.
Former prime minister Sir John Major was among those backing calls for Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab to be installed as a caretaker premier until a permanent successor is in place.
Alternatively he suggested a foreshortened leadership contest with Tory MPs electing the new leader who would then take office while party members in the country would be asked to endorse their choice.
The treasurer of the backbench 1922 committee said on Thursday morning that in "an ideal world" Mr Raab would have been caretaker PM but "that ship has sailed".
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told BBC’s Today programme: “Those ministers who are coming back in a caretaker role, having had resigned (from) work, it will be a little awkward for them.
“I think in an ideal world, Dominic Raab, as Deputy Prime Minister, should have been the caretaker prime minister, but that ship I think has sailed and we must we must now live with the fact that Boris Johnson will be prime minister until a successor can be voted on.”
At a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, Mr Johnson sought to reassure ministers he would not seek to implement any new policies in his remaining time in office and would leave any major tax and spending decisions to the next prime minister.
But after he made clear his frustration at the way he had been forced out by an unprecedented wave of ministerial resignations, many in the party reportedly remain suspicious of his intentions.
On Monday, elections will take place to the executive of the 1922 Committee which will then set out the rules and timetable for the leadership contest.
Under current rules, MPs will vote in a series of secret ballots – depending on how many candidates there are – with the final two going forward to a vote of the membership.
However, the vote for the next prime minister is likely to go to the Conservative Party membership, the treasurer of the 1922 committee said.
Sir Geoffrey said that because there is a "lot of competition" for the top spot, he "would be surprised if it didn’t go to the membership in the country".
“I think, actually, under these circumstances with the division in the party, I think it is a good thing that it goes to the to the membership so they have an opportunity to have their say and a vote," he added.
Who are the frontrunners to replace Boris Johnson?
The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat has become the first contender to throw his hat in the ring, saying he was putting together a “broad coalition” offering a “clean start”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the former soldier said: “I have served before – in the military, and now in Parliament. Now I hope to answer the call once again as prime minister.”
Among the early favourites are former chancellor Rishi Sunak – who quit on Tuesday helping to trigger a slew of ministerial resignations – and the man who succeeded him, Nadhim Zahawi.
In a sign of what is likely to be a bruising contest, Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Johnson loyalist, launched a stinging attack on Mr Sunak’s record at the Treasury.
“Rishi Sunak was not a successful chancellor. He was a high tax chancellor, and he was a chancellor who was not alert to the inflationary problem,” he told Channel 4 News.
Former Tory minister Andrew Mitchell said the next resident of No 10 needed to be someone “patently moral” who is “uncontaminated” by the previous tenant’s “mistakes”.
He told the BBC: “We need to have a leader who is unsullied, uncontaminated, if you like, by the mistakes. Particularly in the tone of the government, as well as some of its action, it needs to be someone clearly with experience. Finally, I think it does need to be someone who is patently moral and decent.”
Elsewhere Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – who was returning early from an international gathering in Indonesia – and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace are both thought to have significant support.
Other ministers considering a run include Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Attorney General Suella Braverman and the Cabinet Office Minister Penny Mordaunt.
From outside the government, former health secretary Sajid Javid, who also quit on Tuesday, Jeremy Hunt, who was runner-up to Mr Johnson in 2019, and arch Brexiteer Steve Baker may also stand.
Mr Cleverly - who put himself forward last time - has ruled himself out of the leadership race as his wife is going through cancer treatment - but said he hasn't decided who he's going to support yet.
He told Sky News: “I feel comfortable that actually we have a range of candidates within the party that would make excellent prime ministers."