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Race to become next British PM begins in earnest, with a crowded field of 11

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By Euronews  with AP
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Media gather near 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, July 7, 2022.
Media gather near 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, July 7, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

There are now 11 names in the race to replace British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, following his announcement last week that he was standing down. 

The already crowded field grew on Sunday, with International Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss becoming the latest to announce their bids, with Mordaunt saying that the UK “needs to become a little less about the leader and a lot more about the ship.”

On Monday, the influential Conservative group the1922 committee will meet to elect a new executive, which will decide the rules for the leadership contest. Party leaders are hoping to keep the contest relatively short and civil, a hard ask given the bad blood within different factions of the party over events of the last few months.

Campaigns already under way

Candidates have already released slick campaign videos on social media, and have appeared on political talk shows to try to make their case. Many are promising tax cuts, at a time when the cost of living is sky rocketing in the UK.

“I want to cut all taxes,” said former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who pledged to slash corporation tax to 15%. “The Treasury’s own numbers say that you’ll get half the money back that you invest in cutting corporation tax because of increased business activity,” he added.

Among the many contenders, the current frontrunner is Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, with other notable names including Nadim Zahawi, who replaced him as chancellor last week, and another former health secretary Sajid Javid.

Sunak announced his leadership bid on Friday with a campaign video in which he promised to confront the difficult economic backdrop with "honesty, seriousness and determination", rather than piling the burden on future generations.

"Someone has to grip this moment and make the right decisions," he said.

Meanwhile, despite speculation in the party and media, Defence Minister Ben Wallace announced on Saturday that he wouldn’t be running.

Long drawn out race?

One key decision the 1922 Committee will make today is how many MP backers a candidate will need in order to make the first ballot. During the last leadership contest, in 2019, the threshold was eight, but it is expected to rise to 20 or more this time around, in a move aimed at thinning out the large field more quickly.

The new leader will be chosen in a two-stage election, in which the 358 Conservative lawmakers reduce the race to two candidates through a series of elimination votes. The final pair will then be put to a postal ballot of all party members across the country.

Under Britain’s parliamentary system the next party leader will automatically become prime minister, without the need for a general election.

News reports are suggesting that Conservative lawmakers will aim to narrow the field to two before parliament breaks for its summer recess on 21 July, with party members then able to vote on the final choice before the end of August.

This would mean the new leader would be in place by September, with Boris Johnson planning to stay in office until then in a caretaker capacity.