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British leadership race heats up as big names target No. 10 prize

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Britain’s former health minister Sajid Javid (left) and former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt are in the race.

PHOTOS: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – The race to replace Mr Boris Johnson as British prime minister is getting more crowded, and the big names are muscling in.

Mr Sajid Javid, the former health minister whose resignation last week helped spark Mr Johnson’s abrupt downfall, and former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who lost to Mr Johnson in the 2019 leadership runoff, used interviews in the Telegraph late on Saturday (July 9) to announce their campaigns.

Both put cutting taxes, a red-meat topic for the Conservative Party core, at the heart of their respective agendas.

In separate interviews with the newspaper, they said they would cancel a planned rise in corporate tax and reduce it to 15 per cent from 25 per cent.

Mr Javid went a step further, pledging to reverse a payroll tax that was introduced by his successor, Mr Rishi Sunak.

Mr Hunt, who turned down Mr Johnson’s offer of a Cabinet position in 2019, plans to emphasise his standing as a parliamentary backbencher outside what he called “the Boris bubble”.

They join seven other candidates, including Mr Javid’s successor, Mr Nadhim Zahawi, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in vying for the top role with Mr Sunak.

The most significant absentee from the starting list so far is Ms Penny Mordaunt, the trade minister who has been touted as one of the favourites for the job.

Conservatives organising the contest are keen to whittle down the race to a final two before Parliament goes on its summer recess on July 21.

Over the next few days, barbs both political and personal will fly, and alliances will develop as candidates seek to shore up support from their fellow Members of Parliament, who decide who goes through to the runoff.

In announcing his run in the Times newspaper, Johnson loyalist Shapps took a swipe at Mr Sunak, who resigned at about the same time as Mr Javid on Tuesday (July 5).

“I have not spent the last few turbulent years plotting or briefing against the prime minister,” Mr Shapps told the paper. “I have not been mobilising a leadership campaign behind his back.”

Mr Sunak declared his candidacy on Friday (July 8) in a slick video that raised eyebrows among Tory MPs who suggested plans had been in the works for longer than a few days.

And in what the Sun newspaper called the kind of dirty trick likely to sully the contest, a clip from 2007 resurfaced online showing Mr Sunak making a dismissive comment about the working class.

Ms Truss will launch her bid by pledging that she will advocate “classic Conservative principles”, the Mail on Sunday (July 10) reported.

Mr Zahawi began his campaign with his own low-tax pledge and seemed to garner endorsements even before he announced, including from former Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis.

Ms Truss ranked just behind Mr Sunak in an opinion poll for Channel 4 News. He was backed by 25 per cent and Ms Truss by 21 per cent in the survey of Conservative Party members, who will pick from the final two candidates.

In one of the more unexpected developments late on Saturday, a Times journalist tweeted that Mr Tom Tugendhat, the centrist chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee who was often critical of Mr Johnson, won the endorsement of Ms Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary and a key member of the right-wing European Research Group.

The other two declared candidates from outside Mr Johnson’s Cabinet are pro-Brexit Attorney-General Suella Braverman and Ms Kemi Badenoch, minister of state for equalities.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, initially seen as a favourite to succeed Mr Johnson, said on Saturday that he decided not to run.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson will stay on until his successor is announced, which the party says will be in September. He has appointed a caretaker government which he insists will not “make major changes of direction”.

The 1922 Committee of rank-and-file Tory MPs is drawing up plans for an accelerated leadership contest. The two finalists will then embark on a six-week tour of Britain, and more than 100,000 Conservative party members will decide who moves into 10 Downing Street.

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