Rishi Sunak is set to become the UK’s next prime minister: live updates

Credit…Sam Bush for The New York Times

The turmoil of recent days has exposed how divided Britain’s Conservatives are, after 12 grueling years in power, and how difficult it will be for Liz Truss’ successor as party leader and prime minister to unite them.

Rishi Sunak, a former Chancellor who ran against Ms Truss last summer and warned his tax proposals would produce chaos, is in pole position, having led the Treasury and performed well under pressure in the campaign for the direction. But he lost that contest largely because many party members blamed him for bringing down Boris Johnson, from whom he resigned.

“The obvious candidate is Rishi Sunak,” said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “The question is whether they can forgive him. The situation is now so extreme that people might be willing to forgive him for his supposed sins.

That is far from clear, however, as Mr Sunak is also wary on the party right and among die-hard Brexiteers in Parliament. His leadership would be hard to bear for some who opposed him, including Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, who once refused to deny reports that he had outlined Mr Sunak’s policies, which included tax increases, as “socialists”.

Mr Johnson’s supporters have argued that because of his landslide victory in the 2019 election, he had a mandate to lead without holding another general election. Under the hashtag #bringbackboris, one of his followers, James Duddridge, wrote on Twitter: “Hope you enjoyed your holiday boss. Time to come back. Few office issues that need to be resolved.

But on Sunday evening, Mr Johnson pulled out of the race to succeed Ms Truss, leaving Mr Sunak with a decisive lead.

Reinstating Mr Johnson would have been very risky, given the circumstances of his forced resignation in July and the fact that he remains a polarizing figure among voters. Mr Johnson is also being investigated by a parliamentary committee into whether he misled the House of Commons about parties in Downing Street which broke pandemic rules. The committee could recommend Mr Johnson’s expulsion or suspension from parliament – a sanction that could mean his constituents get a vote on whether to expel him from parliament altogether.

The party’s ideological divisions were laid bare by outgoing Home Secretary Suella Braverman in a scathing letter written after she was fired last week, reportedly for breaking security rules by sending a government document on her mail personal electronics. She accused Ms Truss of going back on her promises and being lenient on immigration.

Ms Braverman’s parting shot illustrated resistance from right-wingers to what they see as the growing influence of newly appointed Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, a moderate who voted against Brexit and was a supporter and ally of Mr Sunak. Mr Hunt, who ran for party leader twice, said he would not be a candidate this time.

If the Tories let Downing Street fall into the hands of another untested, non-mainstream candidate, like Ms Braverman or perhaps Kemi Badenoch, who currently serves as International Trade Secretary, there could be a new instability in the financial markets.