Boris Johnson’s premiership has been tested many times in the past year but no moment has been as perilous as the one he now finds himself in.
He has now lost the confidence of two of his most senior Cabinet ministers, Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak, who set the ball rolling when they resigned last night. A number of junior ministers and parliamentary private secretaries — some previously achingly loyal to the prime minister — followed suit.
Is it now all game over for Johnson? The consensus is that he can no longer survive the number of colleagues turning against him.
If Johnson is removed, the Conservative Party, and the country, will need a new leader. HuffPost UK runs you through some of the key potential candidates.
The foreign secretary is probably the current frontrunner. Dominic Cummings thinks she would be “even worse” than Johnson, but given the PM’s former top adviser is not exactly the most popular man among many Tory MPs, that criticism might help rather than hurt her.
Truss is something of a survivor, having served in the cabinet since 2014, under David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson. She has been environment secretary, justice secretary, chief secretary to the Treasury, trade secretary and now foreign secretary. Her period at the Ministry of Justice was not seen to be a huge success, but she bounced back and now could be knocking on the door of No.10.
However, the fact that she campaigned for Remain in the Brexit referendum may count against her with some Tories.
The chancellor formally known as “dishy Rishi” had been seen as the most likely to succeed Johnson. Having handed out billions during the pandemic alongside slick personal PR, the 42-year-old’s ascent seemed almost unstoppable.
Like Johnson, Sunak was also fined by police for breaking Covid rules as he was present at the birthday gathering for the PM in the Cabinet Room.
His spring statement mini-Budget in March also triggered a huge backlash, with critics warning it did not to do enough to help people struggling with the cost of living. Sunak moved to address those criticisms in May, with a £21bn package of measures designed to help people pay for energy bills. While this pleased some in his party, it angered those who are instinctively against higher taxes and more borrowing.
While the past few months have been rough for Sunak, he is not ruled out of the race entirely and could be the steady figure the party needs.
The defence secretary is seen to have performed well over Ukraine. The former soldier is also by far the most popular cabinet minister among the party grassroots. Which counts a lot. In February he told The Sun he was “not really attracted to anything else” other than his job at the MoD. But that was a while ago.
He is also rumoured to covet the role of Nato general secretary.
Like Truss, he would easily be able to counter any argument he is not ready to take over in No.10 in the middle the war. And unlike Sunak, he is not personally tainted by partygate.
The 52-year-old has also long been publicly loyal to Johnson. When Michael Gove dramatically turned on Johnson in the 2016 Tory leadership race, Wallace said Gove would become “Theon Greyjoy” from Game of Thrones “by the time I am finished with him”. Greyjoy had his penis cut off.
However, while Wallace will likely be seen as a safe pair of hands on foreign affairs, he has not had as much opportunity to set out a domestic agenda as Truss and Sunak.
The former cabinet minister stood for the leadership in 2019 and was comfortably beaten by Johnson. Now chairman of the Commons health committee, Hunt has made no secret of his intention to stand in any leadership election. “I don’t rule it out,” he told the New Statesman last week, which in Westminster terms is essentially a declaration that you are running.
Following the turmoil of Johnson’s time in office, Hunt’s main pitch to MPs and the party membership is likely to be based on simply being less chaotic. An adult.
A leading face of the Cameron government, Hunt was health secretary for six years, and served as foreign secretary under Theresa May. His association with the last Tory government has led to some to disparagingly refer to him as “Theresa May in trousers”.
Maybe that now has some appeal?
Zahawi was one of the first re-appointments to Johnson’s new-look Cabinet following Javid and Sunak’s decision to quit. He moved from education secretary to chancellor.
Reports suggesting that Zahawi would have resigned had he not got the post — there are rumours of a tussle with Truss — show he does not lack ambition.
Zahawi also helped the Conservatives deliver at the May 2021 local elections, thanks in part to the so-called Covid vaccine bounce. Zahawi was vaccines minister at the time. If he runs, expect a lot to be made of the broadly successful rollout.
Born in Iraq, he moved to the UK with his family aged nine in 1976. He went on to co-found polling giant YouGov before becoming an MP in 2010.
He is seen as a competent media performer and has very much not ruled himself out of a tilt at the top job. “I think every member of parliament must feel that they can at some stage put themselves forward to lead their party, their country — it’s a privilege,” he said recently.
The trade minister is a good bet as a compromise candidate. A strident Brexiteer with socially liberal views – she spoke at a pro-Leave LGBT event during the referendum – who could also get One Nation Tory MPs onside.
Mordaunt was defence secretary under Theresa May, but was sacked from the cabinet when Johnson took over. She had backed Jeremy Hunt in the 2019 leadership race, despite having been seen as a likely candidate herself.
The 49-year-old’s time at the MoD, like Wallace and Truss, would allow her to argue she has the experience to be PM while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues. And in her current role she has recently loudly promoted her work in the United States trying to forge post-Brexit trade links.
In an interview with City AM on Tuesday, Mordaunt said voters wanted “professionalism and competence” from government.
The health secretary has long been touted as a future PM. Back in 2014, David Cameron said that “one day I want to hear that title prime minister, followed by a British-Asian name”, before telling Javid: “Just not immediately, if that’s OK by you.”
Javid ran for leader in 2019 but failed to make the final run-off.
He was briefly chancellor under Johnson but quit in February 2020 amid a power struggle with Dominic Cummings.
Before returning to government in June 2021 following the resignation of Matt Hancock, Javid spent his time on the backbenches burnishing his credentials as a free-marketeer.
“We must resist the call to abandon our free-enterprise, free-trade economic model,” he said in April 2020. “Combined with low taxes and sensible regulation.” That economic message is one that would play well with many Tory MPs and members.
The chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee, who is no fan of Johnson, has essentially already declared he will run for the leadership, having said it would be a “huge privilege”.
A former Army officer, the MP for Tonbridge and Malling has long been a thorn in Johnson’s side, having said the cost of living crisis means the country needed “seriousness” at the top of government. Tugendhat was also sharply critical of how the government managed the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, branding it “shameful”.
While experienced in foreign affairs matters, his views on domestic policy are less well known. But one thing to remember about Conservative Party leadership elections is the initial frontrunner does not always win.
The current attorney-general was a staunch Johnson supporter, up until an appearance on ITV’s Peston on Wednesday night.
She called on the prime minister to resign after he handled matters “appallingly” in recent days, but also said she would stay on in cabinet – while throwing her own hat into the ring for any future leadership contest.
An ardent Brexiteer, Baker repeatedly told the BBC on Thursday morning that he would consider putting himself forward.
Despite never having a place in cabinet, the backbencher told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “I have to think about it very seriously.
“As a working class kid from Cornwall I would never have imagined I’d seriously be on your programme, talking to you, about becoming prime minister.”
He added that people he “deeply respects” are “imploring him” to consider it.
New players keep emerging amid reports that Johnson plans to announce his resignation so that a new Tory leader is in place by October.