ishi Sunak has triggered a full-blown Tory leadership race on Friday as he announced his bid to replace Boris Johnson.
The former Chancellor is the first senior Cabinet-rank level MP to throw their hat into the ring as the leadership race begins.
In a glossy announcement video under the #Ready4Rishi, he released a montage of childhood photos detailing his family’s journey to the UK.
He said: “Our country faces huge challenges the most serious for a generation and the decisions we make today will decide whether the next generation of British people will also have the chance of a better future.
“Do we confront this moment with honesty, seriousness and determination? Or do we tell ourselves comforting fairytales that might make us feel better in the moment but leave our children worse off tomorrow?
“Someone has to grip this moment and make the right decision. That is why I’m standing as the next leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister.
He added: “We’ve had enough of division. Politics at its best is a unifying endeavour and I have spent my career bringing people together. Because that is the only way to succeed.”
Already Commons Leader Mark Spencer has backed Mr Sunak to be the next Tory leader.
The Conservative MP for Sherwood told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “Rishi’s got the skills, he’s got the ability, he’s got the experience, and I think he’s got the vision that we need to pull the country together and to get us moving in the right direction.”
He said Mr Sunak has the “vision and the ability to take us through dark economic times” and “knows how to manage the British economy in the right direction”.
Former Tory Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden has also thrown his support behind Mr Sunak’s leadership bid.
In a statement shared on social media, he said: “Rishi is the best person to lead our country and unquestionably the best person to beat Labour. That’s why I’m backing him to be our next Prime Minister.”
But he isn’t the only Tory to have supporters.
Supporters of Liz Truss were already championing her ahead of her expected bid launch, including Julian Knight – senior Tory, chairman of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport – who gave her his backing.
He wrote: “The way I see it there is only one person who can unify our Party and deliver for the British public and that’s Liz Truss. I know she has a plan for our economy and will deliver on the promise we made to our voters.”
Mr Sunak’s move came after he quit as Chancellor only on Tuesday when he finally refused to support Mr Johnson’s premiership any longer following No10’s response to the scandal over ex-deputy chief whip Chris Pincher allegedly “groping” two men in a private members’ club.
He announced he was entering the contest after a senior Conservative parliamentarian said MPs seeking to succeed Mr Johnson need to “get their skates on” as a shortlist of two candidates to be Tory leader could be decided in just 12 days’ time.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs , said a dozen contenders may enter the leadership race.
He believes the aim will be to whittle down the crowded field to two candidates through a series of votes by Tory MPs before the Commons rises on July 21.
Given that many MPs are not at Westminster on that Thursday, the final vote is more likely to be on July 20 – at the latest.
The shortlist of two would then be put to Tory party members over the summer, with the whole process expected to possibly last about two months.
With Mr Johnson having on Thursday announced his resignation as Tory leader, Sir Geoffrey told the Standard: “The starting gun has been fired.”
Speaking in a personal capacity, he added: “They [contenders] need to get their skates on, to get their supporters rallied together, to get the required number of signatures for the nominations.
“They have got to get a manifesto out so that we all know what they stand for and then they have got to get a campaign up and running including finance.”
A new executive of the 1922 Committee will be elected at the start of next week and it, in co-ordination with Tory HQ, will decide the leadership contest timetable and rules.
Nominations for the leadership race could open on Monday or Tuesday.
Would-be candidates may be required to get the backing of a certain number of MPs to enter the contest. Various thresholds were being bandied around Westminster, including possibly the support of 20 or so MPs, though a decision on this will only be made by the 1922 executive next week. The aim of such a threshold would be to speed up the election process by limiting the series of votes required to get to the short list.
Former soldier Tom Tugendhat MP was already stealing a march on other candidates as he declared early in the contest. The MP for Tonbridge and Malling tweeted on Friday morning: “It’s time for a clean start. It’s time for renewal.”
Gaining early momentum in a leadership contest can be crucial as MPs often flock towards whoever they believe will be the winner.
Expanding on his message, Mr Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: “This nation needs a clean start and a government that will make trust, service and an unrelenting focus on the cost of living crisis its guiding principles.”
Attorney General Suella Braverman and Brexiteer Steve Baker have also thrown their hats into the leadership race. Westminster was today watching to see who in the Cabinet, and which ex-ministers, would join the contest.
Among the strong possible contenders are Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, Mr Sunak, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, international trade minister Penny Mordaunt, Sajid Javid who quit as health secretary minutes before Mr Sunak stood down, and ex- foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt who was expected to declare his candidacy soon.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Jake Berry, chairman of Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, were among other senior Conservatives also said to be considering a possible leadership bid. Part of the contest was expected to focus on who stuck with Mr Johnson until he agreed to quit and those now pushing for a clean break from his premiership.
Education Secretary James Cleverly said candidates seeking to succeed Mr Johnson will need to “explain their rationale” for staying loyal to him or not.
Asked if it is tenable for someone who voiced their criticism of Mr Johnson to become the next Prime Minister, he told BBC Breakfast: “Everyone that puts themselves forward will need to explain the rationale for doing whatever they did and my colleagues will judge that. Some people will I’m sure want to support someone that remained part of the Prime Minister’s team over these last few days and there will be other who want perhaps to support someone that was critical of the Prime Minister.
“Each of us will make our own choices and I think each candidate will need to explain whatever decisions they took or didn’t take.”
Mr Cleverly ruled himself out from the leadership race and did not throw his weight behind any of his colleagues tipped to be running.
He told Sky News: “No, I won’t be.
“I put myself forward last time, I don’t regret that, I really enjoyed it. As you know, my wife has been going through cancer treatment and whilst that is progressing, well, it hasn’t concluded.
“It’s not the right time for me.
“And I feel comfortable that actually we have a range of candidates within the party that would make excellent prime ministers.
“And before you ask the next obvious question, I haven’t decided who I’m going to support yet.”
He also stressed that Mr Johnson has not put a “timeline” on how long he will stay in No10 after quitting as leader of the Tory party.
He told Times Radio: “He said he will stay until the process is complete, he’s not put a timeline on this.
“The timeline on this will be defined by the 1922 Committee in terms of the parliamentary stage and by the Conservative Party in terms of the party stage.
“Both organisations know how important it is to get this done professionally and quickly and I don’t think the Prime Minister has put a particular date on anything.”
Government sources had indicated early yesterday that Mr Johnson was planning to go before the Tory party conference in the autumn, sparking speculation that he could stay in No10 until October which led to a backlash from Tory and Opposition MPs.
Theresa May became Prime Minister in 2016 after Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the contest after it had already gone down to a shortlist of the two of them, which meant the final decision did not go to Tory members.
However, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown believes such a scenario will not happen this time.
He told BBC’s Today programme: “In this case, I think there is a lot of competition. And I would be surprised if it didn’t go to the membership in the country.
“I think, actually, under these circumstances with the division in the party, I think it is a good thing that it goes to the to the membership so they have an opportunity to have their say and a vote.”
The election of a new prime minister, just by a party membership, is controversial and Opposition MPs will push for a general election, arguing that Mr Johnson’s successor will not have their own mandate from voters.
Contenders have already been laying out their stalls.
Mr Zahawi dangled the prospect of more tax cuts shortly after taking over as Chancellor and told The Sun today of the impact of the cost of living squeeze on millions of households, stressing: “I instinctively want them to keep more of their money.”
He has hinted that he may not press ahead with increasing corporation tax from 19 per cent to 25 per cent.
He emphasised the need to cut the cost of government, partly to tame inflation which hit 9.1 per cent in May, and to pave the way for tax reductions.
“If I can do that, I want to very quickly look at how we can take that saving and make sure we are supporting more people to keep more of their earnings, and for more companies to invest and grow in the UK,” he said.
Former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell voiced support for Mr Hunt, saying the next resident of No10 needed to be someone “patently moral” who is “uncontaminated” by the previous tenant’s “mistakes”.