UK Prime minister

This combination of file from Left, Britain’s Foreign Minister Liz Truss in Prague on 27 May, 2022 and right, Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt in Singapore on 31 May, 2019. Photo: various sources / AFP

Final candidates for UK Prime Minister: Liz Truss Versus Penny Mordaunt

It’s a battle between two women! Who will be the next UK prime minister between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt?

UK Prime minister

This combination of file from Left, Britain’s Foreign Minister Liz Truss in Prague on 27 May, 2022 and right, Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mordaunt in Singapore on 31 May, 2019. Photo: various sources / AFP

The final two candidates to become UK prime minister will be decided Wednesday, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt battling it out to make an expected runoff against frontrunner Rishi Sunak.

Former finance minister Sunak was only two votes short of securing his place in the final two after Tuesday’s voting, but the race behind him tightened as Truss clawed back five votes to finish only six behind Mordaunt.

The final pair will be announced at 4:00 pm (1500 GMT), before the race moves to Conservative party members, who will decide the new leader and prime minister.

The result will be announced on 5 September.

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Tuesday’s vote means Britain will get either its first British-Asian prime minister or the third female leader in its history.

Sunak, whose resignation helped to topple outgoing leader Boris Johnson, is all but guaranteed to make the final cut.

But Mordaunt — the one-time bookmakers’ favourite — is now the outsider, with punters betting that the right wing of the party will swing behind Truss after Kemi Badenoch was voted out on Tuesday.

In a bid to woo those MPs, Truss wrote in Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph that her plan to revive the economy would be “based around tax cuts, deregulation and tough reform”.

Former minister David Davis, a backer of Mordaunt, accused Sunak of lending votes to Truss so he could face her in the runoff.

“He wants to fight Liz, because she’s the person who will lose the debate with him,”

he told LBC radio.

A YouGov poll published before the vote indicated that, despite his popularity with colleagues, Sunak was the least appealing candidate to the members.

The BBC plans to host a live televised debate with the final two candidates on Monday, with all remaining candidates agreeing to take part if they get through.

Sunak won the two previous debates, according to snap polls.

But his popularity with the Tory grassroots has faded since questions were raised over his family’s tax arrangements, and as he presided over sky-rocketing inflation, which on Wednesday hit a new 40-year high of 9.4% in June.

In a new policy announcement, Sunak vowed an “ambitious new plan to make the UK energy independent” by 2045 in order to prevent future energy-driven inflation spikes, after Russia’s war in Ukraine sent gas prices rocketing.

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‘Fantasy economics’

Mordaunt had headed the same YouGov poll of Tory members previously.

But she now trails Truss after a damaging few days in which her former boss, one-time UK Brexit pointman David Frost, slammed her work ethic and questions were raised over her stance on transgender rights.

Johnson announced on 7 July he was quitting as Conservative leader after a government rebellion in protest at his scandal-hit administration.

Under Britain’s parliamentary system, the leader of the biggest party is prime minister and can be changed mid-term without having to call a general election.

Johnson, who is staying on until his successor is found, chaired his last cabinet meeting on Tuesday and faced his final weekly question-and-answer session with MPs in parliament on Wednesday.

He urged whoever takes over to “stay close to the Americans, stick up for the Ukrainians, stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere”, as well as “cut taxes and deregulate where you can”.

“And remember above all it’s not Twitter that counts, it’s the people that sent us here,”

he added.

Beforehand, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Tory candidates of “fantasy economics” before turning his fire on the outgoing Johnson.

“He is a complete bullshitter and I think he’s been found out,”

he told Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s former spin chief Alastair Campbell in a podcast.

Starmer attacked Johnson for the Downing Street “Partygate” scandal, which saw him fined for breaking the Covid rules he set for the public.

“It wasn’t just that he did things which broke the rules, it’s that he then took the piss out of the public with his ridiculous defences afterwards,”

he added.

It was “good for the country” that he was going, Starmer added, saying it was reflected in public opinion at the last local elections at which the Tories lost hundreds of council seats.

“There was a general realisation that this guy bullshits and if he’s bullshitting about that (Partygate) he’s probably bullshitting about everything.”

© Agence France-Presse