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UK politics: Meet the eight contenders vying to replace Boris Johnson

Eight politicians are vying to replace Boris Johnson as the next Conservative Party leader and British prime minister.

By the deadline of 18:00 BST on Tuesday evening, each of the contenders had gathered support from at least 20 Conservative lawmakers to progress through to a run-off vote on Wednesday. 

And there’s already been one high profile casualty, when Health Secretary Sajid Javid was apparently not able to secure enough endoresements from fellow MPs and had to drop out of the race minutes before the deadlin. 

The final two candidates will be known before the end of next week, with a successor to Johnson in place by 5 September. 

Here are the remaining contenders:

Rishi Sunak, former treasury chief

Sunak, 42, is the best-known of the party’s potential leaders and a favorite of bookmakers to succeed Johnson.

His public profile rose after he became the UK’s Treasury chief in 2020, a job that entailed overseeing the billions of pounds handed out during the coronavirus pandemic to help businesses and workers.

But he has faced criticism for not doing enough to ease the country’s growing cost-of-living crisis. His popularity also took a dive after police fined him for attending one of the government’s lockdown-flouting parties at Downing Street, home to the prime minister’s office and official residence.

Sunak says the promises to cut taxes made by many rival candidates are “not credible” and that he would only reduce taxes after inflation is under control.

Liz Truss, foreign minister

Truss, 46, took on the high-profile Cabinet post in September after serving as trade minister. She is also the UK’s lead negotiator with the European Union on Brexit issue. 

Truss, the UK’s top diplomat, has made no secret of her leadership ambitions and has sought to emulate former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in carefully curated social media photos. If selected, she says she wants to cut taxes “from day one” and reverse an income tax hike.

Penny Mordaunt, trade minister

Mordaunt, 49, is popular with many Conservatives and is another bookmakers’ favorite to win.

She was the first woman to serve as UK defense secretary, although Johnson dismissed her shortly after he became prime minister in 2019 because she had backed another candidate for party leader, Jeremy Hunt.

Mordaunt, a former reality TV contestant, played a prominent role in the pro-Brexit campaign in 2016.

Jeremy Hunt, former government minister

Hunt, who has served as both health and foreign secretary, ran against Johnson in the 2019 leadership race. He lost heavily, and was dumped from the Cabinet.

However, 55-year-old Hunt has remained a member of Parliament and kept himself in the public eye by grilling the government’s pandemic policies as head of the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

Tom Tugendhat, House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair

Tugendhat, a 48-year-old lawmaker and former soldier, has never held a Cabinet post but heads the influential Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament. He is seen as a centrist and has billed his candidacy as an opportunity for a clean start.

He said he is consulting a “broad coalition” of colleagues to bridge the divides in government.

Kemi Badenoch, former equalities minister

Badenoch, who has worked as a software engineer and at a private bank, grew up in Nigeria and says she experienced poverty first hand.

The 42-year-old lawmaker was initially considered an outsider for the race, but an endorsement from party heavyweight Michael Gove has boosted her profile.

She wants to lower taxes and lead a “limited government focused on essentials.”

Nadhim Zahawi, treasury chief

Zahawi, 55, came to prominence as vaccine minister during the pandemic. A co-founder of the market research firm YouGov, Zahawi was elected to Parliament in 2010.

He was born in Iraq to a Kurdish family and came to the UK as a child when his parents fled Iraq during  Saddam Hussein’s regime. 

Suella Braverman, Attorney General

Braverman is a lawmaker and lawyer who became England’s attorney general in 2020.

A euroskeptic and supporter of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, Braverman, 42, says she wants to deliver “all of the great opportunities of Brexit” – including a tougher line on immigration and leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.

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