Rishi Sunak leads race as Boris Johnson announces he won't contest leadership

Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt are poised to scoop up Boris Johnson backers as the former PM bows out of entering the race, ITV News' Harry Horton reports

Boris Johnson has announced he will not be standing in the Tory leadership race.

The former Prime Minister has ruled himself out of running for the Tory leadership, despite claiming he had the support required to do so.

He admitted he was not able to unite the warring party, in a statement released late Sunday.

The former prime minister said he had “reached out” to leadership rivals Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt to see if they could work together in the national interest, but it had not proved possible.

His exit - despite never formally declaring he would enter the race- leaves his backers to choose between the two remaining candidates.

Johnson backer Nadhim Zahawi was the first to flip, writing: "a day is a long time in politics," before pledging his support to Mr Sunak.

Michael Fabricant shifted his allegiance to Ms Mordaunt, writing he was "deeply disappointed" Mr Johnson had chosen not to stand.

Despite trailing her rival, sources told ITV News political editor Robert Peston Ms Mordaunt is pushing on.

Earlier, allies of Ms Mordaunt disclosed that Mr Johnson had urged her to stand aside and back his campaign – something she refused to do.

There remained some "competitive tension" in the race, but Peston predicted Mr Sunak could quite possibly be crowned the winner as early as 2.15 tomorrow - as the only candidate with 100 or more nominations by late Sunday night.

It could all be over a little after 2pm on Monday if Ms Mordaunt – who so far has fewer than 30 public declarations of support from MPs fails – to enough nominations to go forward.

Her supporters will be hoping that the departure of Mr Johnson will open up the contest, enabling her to make it onto the ballot paper.

If she does, MPs will hold an “indicative vote” to show who they support and there will then be an online poll of activists to decide the contest – unless one or other of the candidates stand down.

In a statement released Sunday, Mr Johnson said: “I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 – and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations, including a proposer and a seconder, and I could put my nomination in tomorrow.

“There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members – and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.

“But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.”

The statement issued late on Sunday confirmed he would not stand in the contest, against his former chancellor and Ms Mordaunt. 

ITV News political editor Robert Peston analyses Boris Johnson's decision

“And though I have reached out to both Rishi and Penny – because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest – we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this," Mr Johnson continued.

The former leader said that due to the failure to reach a deal with either of the candidates: “I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds”.

“I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time,” he added.

Johnson allies had claimed he had support of more than 100 MPs, but fewer than half that number had publicly declared their backing.

By Sunday evening, Mr Sunak widened his lead over Ms Mordaunt.

Mr Sunak closes in on the top job Credit: Beresford Hodge/PA

A total 134 backed the former chancellor, to Ms Mordaunt's 26.

Mr Johnson's support tallied 47 public backers by the time he issued a statement that he would not be contesting the leadership.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner criticised the process, as frontrunner Mr Sunak looked poised to take the helm at Downing Street.

Penny Mordaunt failed to win enough backing and said Rishi Sunak now has her ‘full support’ Credit: Belinda Jiao/PA

“The Tories are about to hand Rishi Sunak the keys to the country without him saying a single word about how he would govern. No one voted for this," she said.

“Perhaps it’s not surprising he’s avoiding scrutiny: after all, he was so bad that just a few weeks ago he was trounced by Liz Truss."Ms Rayner said Mr Sunak had been rejected by his own party "because he created a vicious cycle of low growth," "did nothing to tackle the cost of living crisis," and was a chancellor whose wife for a time avoided paying tax in the UK on her overseas income.“It’s why we need an election now - people deserve a vote on the future of the country.”

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