UK's Boris Johnson steers clear of endorsing successor

Mr Boris Johnson has refused to back any of the 11 candidates vying to be the next Conservative party leader. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Eleven hopefuls were on Monday (July 11) in the race to become the next Conservative party leader and British prime minister but Mr Boris Johnson refused to back any candidate vying to be his successor.

The contest was triggered last week when Mr Johnson, 58, was forced to step down after a frenzy of more than 60 resignations from his government, in opposition to his scandal-hit leadership.

An influential committee of non-ministerial Tory MPs in Parliament is set to outline a timetable for the election from about 1800 GMT on Monday (2am Singapore time Tuesday).

But with calls for Mr Johnson to leave Downing Street as soon as possible - and to avoid the process dragging into MPs' summer holidays - the numbers are likely to be whittled down quickly to just two.

The joint-executive secretary of the "1922 Committee", Mr Bob Blackman, said they were committed to doing that before Parliament breaks for the summer on July 21.

"That means that we'll hold a succession of ballots over the next few days in order to get to that position," he told Sky News.

Among those running are Mr Rishi Sunak and Mr Sajid Javid, whose departures as finance minister and health minister sparked the wave of resignations.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Mr Sunak's successor Nadhim Zahawi have also declared, and Home Secretary Priti Patel is reportedly mulling a bid.

Brexit figurehead Mr Johnson dramatically announced his departure as party leader last Thursday but is staying on in Downing Street until a replacement is found.

Mr Javid said that with Britain facing a soaring cost-of-living crisis, energy price hikes and the war in Ukraine, there was a need more than ever for "competence" in the country's leaders.

"I've every hope that this campaign can and will be the turning point that we need," he said at a campaign launch.

"People want to see who's ready to take on these crises as well as the next election campaign," he added.

Central to the "1922 Committee" ruling is expected to be how many MPs need to support a candidate for them to be allowed in the race.

Mr Blackman said any prospective candidate may need the backing of 18 or more MPs.

On a visit to a science research institute in London, Mr Johnson was asked directly if he would endorse any of the candidates, six of whom are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

"The job of the prime minister at this stage is to let the party decide, let them get on with it, and to continue delivering on the projects that we were elected to deliver," he said.

Mr Johnson's fall from grace has been spectacular. In December 2019 he won a landslide 80-seat victory on a promise to take Britain out of the European Union.

His parliamentary majority allowed him to do just that but his premiership was hit by waves of scandal, not least about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street that saw him fined by police.

Another row blew up last week about his appointment of a senior colleague despite knowing of sexual assault allegations against him, sparking the government resignations.

In his speech, he blamed the "herd" for moving against him, and his allies have been briefing angrily against former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak.

But Mr Johnson refused to say Monday whether he felt betrayed.

"I don't want to say any more about all that," he said.

"There's a contest under way and that has happened and you know, I wouldn't want to damage any chances by offering my support.

"I just have to get on and in the last few days or weeks... the constitutional function of the prime minister in this situation is to continue to discharge the mandate. And that's what I'm doing," he added.

"The more we focus on the people who elect us... (and) the less we talk about politics at Westminster, the generally happier we will all be."

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