Rishi Sunak is believed to have become the first Conservative leadership candidate to have amassed enough support to make it to the ballot of fellow Conservatives.
Supporters of the former chancellor said Friday evening that they had received nominations from 100 Conservative MPs to cross the required threshold long before Monday’s deadline.
Boris Johnson was late, as was Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, who was the first to confirm his candidacy to replace Liz Truss as Prime Minister.
But Mr. Johnson told the allies he is “ready for it” and flew back overnight from his vacation in the Dominican Republic to enter the race and attempt an extraordinary comeback.
Sky News photographed the former Prime Minister and his wife Carrie Johnson on a British Airways overnight flight back from the Dominican Republic with their children and said the MP received “a boo or two” as he boarded.
There is speculation among supporters of Downing Street’s old neighbors that they might strike a deal to be together, but that would need both of them to bury a lot of grudge.
Mr. Sunak, who finished second against Ms. Truss in the last game six weeks ago, has about 82 public statements, far ahead of Mr. Johnson’s 48, while Ms. Mordaunt struggles with 18.
But a source in the former chancellor’s camp told the PA news agency that he had the support of 100 colleagues to move on to the next stage.
Tory MPs will vote on Monday and two candidates will be proposed to join the Tories unless one withdraws, with a result announced on Friday.
Mr. Johnson enlisted the support of six government ministers: Ben Wallace, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Simon Clarke, Chris Heaton-Harris, Alok Sharma, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
But former Tory leader Lord William Hague warned that Johnson’s return would lead to a “death spiral” for the Conservative Party.
“And I think that’s possibly the worst idea I’ve heard of in the 46 years I’ve been a Conservative Party member,” he told Times Radio.
Neither Mr. Johnson nor Mr. Sunak officially launched their campaigns, unlike Ms. Mordaunt who presented her name with a promise to reunite the bitterly divided Tory Party.
The House leader – who finished third in the last elections for leadership – said she was encouraged by the support she received from fellow Conservative MPs.
“I was encouraged by the support of colleagues who want a new start, a united party and leadership in the national interest,” she said in a statement posted on social media.
“I am running to be the leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister – to unite our country, keep our commitments and win the next GE (general election).”
Mordaunt’s announcement came after she assured Jeremy Hunt that he could remain as Chancellor if he won.
Johnson’s supporters urged him to return to the field six weeks after leaving Number 10 after being forced to step down by a government rebellion over a series of scandals.
Ally Sir James Duddridge said Mr Johnson told him he was “ready” and would be returning from his Caribbean vacation and landing in the UK on Saturday.
The Minister of Commerce told the PA news agency: “I have been in contact with the boss via WhatsApp.
“He will come back. He said, ‘I’m coming back, Dudders. We will do it. I’m in’.”
Some lawmakers warned that they would quit the Tory whip and sit in the House of Commons as independents if Mr. Johnson returned to Downing Street.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace excluded himself as a candidate, saying he was “intent on” supporting his longtime ally, Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Wallace praised his defense investment record and pointed to the “vast majority” who won in 2019.
He told broadcasters: “This will potentially be our third prime minister since the 2019 general election – this means we need to think about that question of legitimacy the public will ask, and also who could win the next election – this is obviously important. for any political party of the time “.
Candidates have until 2pm on Monday to secure the 100 nominations, limiting the vote to a maximum of three candidates.
Johnson’s supporters believe that if he manages to make it to the last two, he will win in the final online ballot of party activists with whom he remains extremely popular.
Mr. Sunak won the support of Sajid Javid, his predecessor as Chancellor who supported Ms. Truss in the last race and Mr. Johnson in 2019.
Javid said Sunak has the “values our party needs” to help them “get over the mistakes of the past”.
Former Minister Johnny Mercer also supported Mr. Sunak and argued that he could not subject himself or his constituents to another Johnson administration after last time “terrible” lows.
“Boris is a friend of mine, I love him a little, he’s a good guy, but I don’t think I can face him again. I don’t think I can ask my constituents to do that, I don’t think I can ask my staff… ”he told the BBC Radio 4 PM program.
“I love Boris in a little bit and he has extraordinary qualities for this country, but now is the time for serious, competent, direct and values-based governance.”