Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss square off to succeed Boris Johnson as Britain's next prime minister

·3 min read
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.
Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Henry Nicholls/Reuters, Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

LONDON — Britain’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, will compete against former treasury chief Rishi Sunak in the Conservative Party’s contest to become the next prime minister.

Conservative lawmakers whittled down the group of candidates to just two on Wednesday after several rounds of votes. Sunak received the highest number of votes from his fellow party members, while Truss came in second with 113 — 24 fewer than Sunak’s 137. Penny Mordaunt lost out on the leadership race after receiving only 105 votes.

Originally, 10 politicians entered the contest to become the next prime minister, but after five rounds of voting, just Truss and Sunak remain. “I want to thank all the colleagues who supported me tonight,” Sunak wrote on Twitter following his win. “Together we can rebuild our economy, keep Brexit safe & defeat Labour.” Meanwhile, Truss tweeted: “Thank you for putting your trust in me. I’m ready to hit the ground running from day one.”

Liz Truss at a campaign event in London.
Truss at a campaign event in London on July 14. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

As the government breaks for summer, Truss and Sunak will be in for weeks of tough campaigning before a new prime minister is announced on Sept. 5. However, it is no longer just Conservative members of Parliament who will be able to vote on their next leader.

In the U.K., anyone can become a member of the Conservative Party by sending in an application and paying an annual fee of £25 (about $30). There are roughly 160,000 current members; those who have been members for at least three months will vote on who will become the next leader of the country. A study by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London found that 44% of the membership is over the age of 65, 54% live in London and the south of England and 71% are male.

Whoever wins the leadership race will not face a public vote until the general election unless they choose to call an early election.

Rishi Sunak launches his campaign in London.
Sunak launches his campaign in London on July 12. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister earlier this month after a string of scandals led to dozens of Conservative politicians quitting. Sunak and former Health Secretary Sajid Javid were the first members of Parliament to hand in their resignation letters, but it took Johnson two days and an astonishing 57 other resignations before he finally decided to step back as the leader.

Having been part of Johnson’s Cabinet while he was in office, both Truss and Sunak are marred by his scandals. Sunak most notably was involved in the Partygate scandal, in which he and Johnson were fined by police for attending a party during the COVID lockdown in June 2020. Johnson was the first sitting prime minister found to have broken a law while in office. He resigned on July 7.

In his final appearance as prime minister, Johnson finished his speech as leader of the U.K. with the phrase “Hasta la vista, baby” — made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the film “Terminator.”