LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Conservative Party on Wednesday picked former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — a tax moderate and a low-tax crusader — as the two runners-up in an election of the party to replace outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The result came just after the divisive and unrepentant Johnson, who threw his party into turmoil, ended his final appearance in parliament as prime minister with the words “Hasta la vista, baby”.
Sunak and Truss came in first and second, respectively, in a secret ballot by conservative lawmakers. Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt came third and was eliminated.
The race, which has already produced bitter Tory infighting, pits Sunak, who led Britain’s economy through the pandemic before leaving Johnson’s government this month, against Truss, who led the UK’s response. United Kingdom to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The two contenders will spend the next few weeks campaigning for the votes of around 180,000 Conservative Party members across the country, who will vote by mail-in ballot or online. The winner of the leadership vote will be announced on September 5 and will automatically become Britain’s next prime minister.
Sunak won all four rounds of legislators’ knockout votes, but is less popular with the party base, in part because of his former job as Britain’s tax chief.
Truss, who has taken a hard line against Russian President Vladimir Putin – and with the European Union – is a favorite of the right-wing conservatives.
Truss said that if she became Prime Minister, “I would jump in from day one, unite the party and govern in accordance with Conservative values”.
Sunak’s campaign said “the choice for members is very simple: who is the best person to beat Labor in the next election? The evidence shows it is Rishi.”
The winner of the Tory contest will not have to face British voters until 2024 unless they choose to call a snap general election.
The campaign has already exposed deep divisions within the Conservative Party at the end of Johnson’s scandal-ridden three-year reign. Truss called Sunak a “socialist” for raising taxes in response to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Sunak hit back, saying rivals including Truss were peddling economic “fairy tales” to British voters as the country faced runaway inflation and economic turmoil.
Johnson’s allies have been accused of lobbying against Sunak, whose resignation helped bring down the prime minister, and in favor of Truss, who has remained loyal. That impression was cemented on Wednesday when Johnson said his advice to his successor would be to not always listen to the Treasury.
All the candidates – there were 11 to start – have sought to distance themselves from Johnson, whose tenure began boldly in 2019 with a vow to ‘get Brexit done’ and a resounding election victory but now ends in disgrace.
Johnson resigned on July 7 but remains interim leader until the party elects his successor.
On Wednesday, he faced mocking opposition politicians and weary Tories in his final Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons, which adjourns for the summer on Thursday.
It was a pessimistic start, with supportive conservative lawmakers praising and opposition politicians offering variations of “good riddance”.
Johnson touted what he called his accomplishments – getting Britain out of the EU and through COVID-19, and supporting Ukraine against invading Russia – and said: ‘Mission largely accomplished, for now,” before leaving with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “hasta la vista” tagline from “Terminator 2.”
Opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said: ‘I’m going to miss the illusion.
Johnson clung to office through months of scandals over his finances and judgement, refusing to resign when he was fined by police for government parties breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules . He finally resigned after one scandal too many – the appointment of a politician accused of sexual misconduct – prompted his ministers to resign en masse.
Although he remained Prime Minister, he has largely disappeared from the scene, even as Britain faces a summer cost-of-living crisis and discontent among workers as inflation hits 9.4% .
Johnson did not attend any emergency government meetings over the heat wave that brought record temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) to Britain this week. Last week he took a ride in a Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jet, with ‘Top Gun’ style images released by his office, then threw a weekend party at Checkers, the home of campaign that accompanies the work of the Prime Minister.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan accused Johnson of wanting to “become Tom Cruise” and urged him to resign immediately.
“We need a full-time prime minister who takes care of our country rather than someone who checked,” Khan said.
Follow all of AP’s coverage of UK politics at https://apnews.com/hub/boris-johnson
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.