LONDON -- After Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, was dealt a severe blow by a no confidence vote from his Conservative Party, questions are already being raised about who would succeed him if forced from office.
Following revelations that Johnson and his staff had held Downing Street parties, which broke Britain's COVID-19 lockdown rules, Conservative lawmakers voted to keep Johnson leader Monday with 211 votes to 148. However, the scale of the revolt was more severe than anticipated.
Johnson is not only protected by the leadership rules, but he also faces other threats.
Party rebels can change the rules to force early voting; he may be seen as a political liability should the Conservatives lose special elections this month. He could be removed if an ethics panel finds that he lies to Parliament about "partygate". Or he could quit.
This would set off a contest for leadership to replace him. Although there is not a single front-runner here are some potential contenders.
LIZ TRUSS FOREIGN SEECRETARY
Truss, 46 years old, was appointed to the Cabinet in September. She had previously served as trade minister. Since then, Truss has gained momentum as a candidate and has not hidden her ambitions.
Truss was Britain's chief diplomat for Ukraine, and she received a warm reception from Sergey Lavrov (Russia), prior to Moscow's February 24 invasion.
She also serves as the U.K.’s chief negotiator to the European Union for lingering issues after Britain's departure from the bloc. Truss was once a supporter of the EU and has since become a champion for Brexit. As international trade secretary, she signed post-Brexit agreements around the globe and channeled Johnson's ambitions for "Global Britain."
Many Conservatives love Truss. They see similarities to Margaret Thatcher's first female prime Minister in the free-market-loving politician. Truss's supporters invented the slogan "In Liz We Truss."
RISHI SUNAK TREASURY CHIEF
Sunak was, until recently, widely considered the party's brightest rising star and the most well-known of all the candidates -- and the favorite to succeed Johnson.
Sunak, 42 years old, was put in the spotlight after he was appointed treasury chief for 2020. He had the difficult task of guiding the economy through the worst economic slump since records began due to the pandemic. His policies were generally viewed positively, as he spent billions of pounds on emergency spending to support workers and businesses.
But "partygate” changed all that. He was also fined by the police for attending a Downing Street lockdown party in June 2020. He was also heavily criticised for failing to address Britain's severe cost of living crisis.
Sunak was also under pressure after it emerged that Akshata Murthy his wife avoided paying U.K. tax on her income from overseas. The former investment banker kept his U.S. greencard while serving in the government.
He could become Britain's first Prime Minister of Color if he succeeds. Sunak was born to Indian parents, who immigrated to the U.K. in East Africa. He attended Winchester College and then studied at Oxford.
Because he is out of touch with ordinary voters, some see his elite education and past work at Goldman Sachs Investment Bank and a hedge fund as a weakness.
JEREMY HUNT, FORMER CABINET MINISTER
Hunt, who was a former foreign and health secretary, ran against Johnson in 2019. He claimed to be the more serious candidate. Johnson won and Hunt lost heavily.
He openly stated that he would not back Johnson and warned that keeping him in power would ruin the party's chances at the next general elections.
It is widely believed that he will run for the party's leadership. The 55-year old was quoted saying in a January interview that his desire to lead the country had not "completely vanished."
Hunt has remained a lawmaker and kept himself in public view by interviewing ministers and experts at the head of Parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee.
He may be a critic of Johnson's response to the pandemic. However, some people view him negatively for his unpopular policies as the health secretary.
BEN WALLACE DEFENSE SECRRETARY
Wallace is admired for his straightforward talk, especially among Conservative lawmakers who asked for an increase in defense spending.
Wallace, a 52-year-old Army veteran, has been prominently featured as a key government voice in Britain’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
TOM TUGENDHAT - COMMONS FOREIGN AFAIRS COMMITTEE CHIAIR
Tugendhat (48), is a nonCabinet Conservative and has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the leadership. Tugendhat, despite not having any ministerial experience is being favored by some party members as a great choice for a fresh start.
The former soldier was an opponent to the 2016 Brexit referendum and a fierce critic of Johnson. He is also one of the key Conservatives who are urging the U.K. take a stronger stance on China.
NADHIM ZAHAWI - EDUCATION SECRETARY
Zahawi (55), rose to prominence during the pandemic as the vaccines minister and was credited for the rollout of COVID-19.
Zahawi, co-founder of market research company YouGov was elected lawmaker in 2010. Born in Iraq to a Kurdish couple, Zahawi immigrated to the U.K. when his parents fled Iraq.
Some see him as a safe option if Truss or other candidates prove too divisive.
SAJID JAVID, HEALTH SECRETARY
Javid, 52 years old, is the health secretary and has led Britain's COVID-19 response. He was previously treasury chief. However, he resigned in 2020 following a dispute with Johnson about his decision to fire his advisers.
Johnson brought Johnson back to the government to manage the coronavirus response, proving his competence.
Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants and a politician, has described himself as a common-man's alternative to his private school-educated peers. However, he did have a successful career in investment banking prior to entering politics.
MICHAEL GOVE LEVELING UP SERETARY
Gove is a party heavyweight who has held many important Cabinet posts. He currently oversees delivering on the government’s promise to "level-up" Britain, which will address inequality by expanding opportunities in areas that are less fortunate.
Gove, 54 years old, was a crucial part of the Brexit campaign. He is highly respected within the party but not trusted completely. He backed Johnson as leader in the 2016 Conservative leadership election, which many Conservatives still remember.
PENNY MORDAUNT, TRADE MINISTER
Supporters say Mordaunt (49) could be a surprising contender and that she can help to heal party divisions.
Mordaunt was a prominent figure in the pro-Brexit campaign, and she had supported Hunt in the 2019 leadership race. Johnson made her the prime minister and she was soon removed from her position as defense secretary.
Since then, she has been back in government as international trade minister. She is loved by Conservative lawmakers.