Who could be in the frame to replace Boris Johnson should a vacancy arise?

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure.

01 June 2022

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to face questions about his future and a confidence vote looms, who are the potential candidates to replace him should a vacancy arise?

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (Niall Carson/PA)

– Liz Truss

“Fizz with Liz” has been a phrase associated with the Foreign Secretary amid reports earlier this year that she hosted MPs in her parliamentary office in a bid to schmooze possible backers.

Her threats to overwrite parts of the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol as well as her sanctions response to Russia over the Ukraine war are likely to have gone down well with some on the Conservative backbenchers.

Ms Truss, who is popular with Tory members, has steadily reformed her public image in recent years – from a remainer mocked for her speeches about cheese imports to someone who embraced Brexit following the referendum result and appeared to be emulating Margaret Thatcher in her press photos.

Cabinet Meeting
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (Daniel Leal/PA)

– Rishi Sunak

The Chancellor seemed nailed on to be in any future leadership race following his role in the pandemic, which saw him enjoy a popularity bounce after he turned on the spending taps in a bid to protect the economy and people.

But he has since endured a bruising period after questions were raised over his family’s finances and the disclosure that he had held a US green card – making him a “lawful permanent resident” of the United States – while he was Chancellor.

Mr Sunak last week insisted he is not considering resigning despite being fined for breaking coronavirus laws, and his response to the cost-of-living crisis remains under scrutiny.

Sunday Morning
Jeremy Hunt (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

– Jeremy Hunt

The former health secretary and foreign secretary lost to Mr Johnson in the 2019 Tory leadership contest, but is widely tipped to make another bid.

Mr Hunt last month, ahead of the publication of the Sue Gray report, said he did not think “this is the moment for a leadership contest” but also noted: “I don’t rule out a return to frontline politics.”

Mr Hunt campaigned for Remain during the EU referendum but later stated support for Leave. He has spent the last couple of years chairing the Health and Social Care Select Committee, which saw him make numerous interventions during the pandemic and question the Government’s approach.

Regional cabinet meeting – Staffordshire
Health Secretary Sajid Javid (Jacob King/PA)

– Sajid Javid

His frontline political future was in doubt when he quit as chancellor in February 2020 just six months into the job after No 10 told him to sack all of his advisers. But Mr Javid has bounced back since June 2021 as Health Secretary.

In the 2019 leadership contest, he proposed cutting the top rate of income tax and he was also reported last month to be among those against a windfall tax on oil and gas producers.

With some in the party calling for lower taxes, this could chime with Mr Javid’s instincts and help boost his chances.

Economic pacts
Penny Mordaunt (Aaron Chown/PA)

– Penny Mordaunt

The trade minister with Cabinet experience and also a key figure in the Leave campaign in 2016. Ms Mordaunt might be viewed as an outside bet but she is likely to attract support.

The Portsmouth North MP’s recent work has included leading efforts to secure economic pacts with American states and she is considered a strong speaker and on top of her brief in her Commons appearances.

– Ben Wallace

The Defence Secretary has won admirers in Westminster for his straight-talking and straight-forward approach, particularly among Tory MPs who pressed for the UK to increase its defence spending although cuts to the size of the army remain a cause for concern.

Mr Wallace, who served in the Scots Guard, remains a key voice in the UK’s response to Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine and this increased exposure could assist any leadership bid.

– Tom Tugendhat

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee became the first to announce he intends to stand for leader should Mr Johnson be given the boot – with his declaration was made in January.

The former soldier said: “I think I’m making it pretty clear that I think that it’s up to all of us to put ourselves forward. And it’s up to the electorate, in the first case parliamentary colleagues, and in the second case the party, to choose.

“I think it’s a position of absolute integrity to say that of course you should offer yourself to the electorate if you think you can do it. Of course you should talk to colleagues and see if you can get a group together, and if you can get a group together you should go for it.”

Mr Tugendhat’s ambitions might not be supported by everyone in the party, but they could secure him a plum job in a future cabinet.

Cabinet Meeting
Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

While there are always likely to be some surprise candidates, what about those who may have missed their opportunity?

– Dominic Raab

The Brexit-backing Deputy Prime Minister whose political fortunes have fluctuated in recent years. Despite his senior jobs in the Cabinet, Mr Raab’s tenure as foreign secretary seems unlikely to assist his bid to review any leadership ambitions.

His decision to stay on a family holiday in Crete as the Taliban were marching back to power in Afghanistan lingers in the memory for many.

– Michael Gove

As the current Communities Secretary tasked with delivering on the Government’s levelling-up agenda, Mr Gove continues to be given responsibility for big jobs.

The key Brexiteer famously scuppered Mr Johnson’s 2016 leadership bid, but could a run for Strictly Come Dancing be more likely given his dancefloor antics displayed online in recent months?

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