In a statement issued on Twitter, he presented himself as the leader who could mend the economy: the sober, rational, sensible, reliable, and professional one. Not Boris Johnson, in other words.
Sunak has been the runaway leader among the 357 Tory MPs in the race to succeed Truss and become prime minister. The tables showing support for the three would-be leaders tell different stories. Sunak seems on an endless upward trajectory. The first candidate to declare, Penny Mordaunt, has been stuck in the mid 20s since Friday and — despite a full-on social media campaign — has not budged from there.
And what about Johnson? His arrival back from his holiday in the Dominican Republic on Saturday morning did not have the impact he or his supporters desired. His numbers have crept up since Saturday, and only 60 had publicly pledged their allegiance by midday on Sunday. Even when you took into account those who had secretly pledged, Johnson was still 25 shy of the threshold of 100 MPs he needed to become an official candidate.
“Clearly he is going to stand,” insisted Jacob Rees-Mogg on Sunday morning. “Those who do the numbers for the Boris Johnson campaign tell me that they have the numbers.”
Sunak supporters have openly expressed their doubt that there could be so many shy Johnson supporters out there.
Sunak and Johnson held a private meeting on Saturday night with a view to see if a deal could be brokered. But it came to nothing. In a Zoom call with his campaign team at 8am on Sunday, he said that no deal had been reached and he would be seeking the nomination alone.
The big question on Sunday is whether or not Boris Johnson can reach the magical 100 mark on Monday.
His supporters have said that it was Johnson who brought in the ‘Red Wall’ MPs, Tories who won seats in the north of England that had been Labour strongholds for generations. However, the fealty of some of those MPs to Johnson has been iffy, with some of the 2019 intake in the northeast breaking to Sunak.
Johnson’s other great hope of reaching the magical 100 is to get the block support of the right-wing pro-Brexit European Research Group.
However, the group is not as coherent as it once was. Significantly, on Sunday, two of the leading figures on the right wing of the party — Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker and former home secretary Suella Braverman — both pledged support for Sunak.
Baker did not mince his words when speaking to Sky News, saying the House of Commons Committee of Privileges investigation into allegations Johnson misled parliament over ‘Partygate’ would be highly damaging for the party, if he were elected leader.
“The trouble is because of the privilege vote Boris would be a guaranteed disaster. If there was a vote in the House of Commons, it is guaranteed that a large number of Conservatives would refuse to lay down their integrity to save him. At that moment his premiership would collapse,” said Baker.
The third candidate, Mordaunt, looks like she won’t make the numbers and there is a likelihood that a small number of her supporters might jump ship behind one of the other two.
The moment of truth will be at pm on Monday when it will be known if the party has one, or two, official candidates. Johnson has less than 24 hours if he is to have any chance of making an unlikely return to 10 Downing Street.