Several political scandals have plagued UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for months. Though he’d been bruised, Johnson also established himself as a PM who could survive almost anything, including a recent no-confidence vote.
But that good-luck streak ended Thursday when he finally caved to party pressure and announced his resignation. Johnson will reportedly stay on as a caretaker PM until the Conservative Party taps his replacement, which could take months.
Who might replace him?
Zahawi has an impressive rags-to-riches story. Born in Iraq, he moved to the UK as a child refugee in the 1970s and made a mint in the business world before jumping into politics in 2010.
Zahawi, who has reportedly long been preparing for a leadership bid, has served several stints in the cabinet and oversaw the UK’s much-praised COVID vaccine rollout, which was more efficient than in many European countries. This week, Zahawi was tapped as chancellor after his predecessor, Rishi Sunak, walked out. His new role is a massive gig at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is pummeling Britain’s working class, and inflation is topping 9%.
Sunak, a former Johnson loyalist, served as British chancellor until Tuesday. He resigned amid the latest scandal, citing issues with the standards of Johnson’s governance. Many Brits viewed Sunak as a steady hand during the pandemic, during which he unveiled a swift economic relief program to help struggling businesses and families.
But domestic support for him has since nose-dived: Sunak was implicated in the untactful “Partygate” scandal along with the PM and forced to pay a fine. Sunak’s reputation also suffered when it was revealed that his wife failed to pay taxes on millions of dollars worth of foreign income. Though long considered a Conservative rising star, many Brits now view Sunak as an out-of-touch elitist.
Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, Hunt has served the UK government in various cabinet positions, including foreign secretary and health secretary. A moderate, he ran against Johnson in the 2019 Conservative Party leadership election and almost won. He then declined an invitation to be Johnson’s secretary of defense.
He is, unsurprisingly, an Oxford graduate and a rather non-controversial figure in the party, although he went through a bit of a rough patch over COVID policies. Still, some polls show that Hunt might not do that well if he faces off against other Tories vying for the top job. Fun fact: he is fluent in Japanese.
Truss has held cabinet positions in three Tory governments and has served as foreign secretary since Johnson undertook a cabinet reshuffle last fall.
An uncompromising free-marketer, Truss appeared to relish the opportunity when she was tapped in December to head ongoing – and painstaking – Brexit negotiations with the European Union. She has driven a hard bargain on the Northern Ireland Protocol, a sticking point with Brussels. Indeed, of all the contenders to replace Johnson, Truss is the one who could cause an all-out trade war with the EU.
Johnson’s premiership was put on life support this week when Health Secretary Sajid Javid resigned first, citing the current government’s “integrity” problem. Javid has held six cabinet posts since 2014, including the chancellery, which he ditched due to ongoing disagreements with Johnson’s idiosyncratic former right-hand man, Dominic Cummings.
Javid, a child of immigrants, is considered to be an able politician who came from humble beginnings. Though he put forward a moral argument for ditching the government now, it's likely Javid also saw this as an opportune time to launch his own leadership bid.
The former military man is a lesser-known entity in British politics. A centrist and vocal China critic – and former Middle East-based journalist – Tugendhat has not held a cabinet position since entering the political fray in 2015. Tugendhat’s relative obscurity could work in his favor – as could the fact that it’s well known that he and the deeply unpopular PM despise each other.
Wallace is the current secretary of state for defense and a longstanding member of the UK army. A member of parliament since 2005, he is well respected by the Conservative Party, mostly for his central roles in the Ukraine crisis and the evacuation of troops from Afghanistan.
He is perceived by many as an assertive leader, and although he has not officially expressed an interest in running for BoJo’s job, ConservativeHome polls suggest the Tories might want him to. Interestingly, he was once an avid ski instructor and opposed the no-deal Brexit.
Mordaunt has not missed a beat when it comes to criticizing Johnson, particularly for the “Partygate” scandal. Now the minister of state for trade policy, Mordaunt was appointed the UK’s first female defense secretary in 2019. She has been quite the chameleon, moving from the role of minister for women and equalities and secretary of state for international development.
Mordaunt is currently the only female MP who is a Royal Naval Reservist (one of the two volunteer reserve positions in the UK navy) and, fun fact, she’s a twin who used to work as a magician’s assistant.
Looking ahead: The internal leadership process could take months, and it's likely the new Tory leader will make an official debut at the Conservative Party conference in October. Labor Party leader Keir Stermer has so far benefited from the months-long chaos enveloping the Conservatives, but that could change if the Tories tap a steadier hand to lead them into the next election.