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Politics

Sunak and Truss Will Face Runoff to Become UK’s Next Leader

LONDON — LONDON — Britain’s Conservative Party has chosen Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss as the two finalists in an election to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The pair came first and second in a vote of Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday. Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt came third and was eliminated.

The race pits Sunak, a former Treasury chief who steered Britain’s economy through the pandemic, against Truss, who has led the U.K.’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as foreign secretary.

The two contenders will spend the next few weeks campaigning for the votes of about 180,000 Conservative Party members around the country, who will vote by postal or online ballot. The winner of the party leadership vote will be announced Sept. 5 and will automatically become prime minister.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Conservative Party was choosing two finalists on Wednesday in the contest to replace Boris Johnson, as the divisive, unrepentant leader ended his final appearance in Parliament as prime minister with the words “Hasta la vista, baby.”

Johnson, who quit July 7 after months of ethics scandals but remains caretaker leader until the party elects his successor, faced derisive opposition politicians and weary Conservatives at his last Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons.

FILE – Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak attends a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, London, May 24, 2022. (Daniel Leal/Pool via AP, File)

It was a downbeat departure, with supportive Conservative backbenchers lobbing praise and opposition politicians offering variations on “good riddance.”

Johnson extolled what he called his accomplishments — leading Britain out of the European Union and through COVID-19, and supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion — and declared: “Mission largely accomplished, for now,” before departing with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “hasta la vista” catchphrase from “Terminator 2.”

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said: “I will miss the delusion.”

Parliament adjourns for the summer on Thursday, and Conservatives will spend the next six weeks electing a new leader, who will also become prime minister.

Conservative lawmakers will hold a final elimination vote Wednesday afternoon to cut the field of three remaining candidates down to two.

Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt are battling for the run-off spots. The two finalists will go to a vote by all 180,000 members of the Conservative Party, with a winner scheduled to be announced Sept. 5.

Sunak has led every round of voting so far and is highly likely to make the final two. Truss, who is favored by the party’s right wing, and Mordaunt, who has scored highly in polls of party members, are wooing lawmakers in an attempt to clinch the other spot.

Even though Truss has come third in every vote so far, bookmakers say she is favorite to win the contest because she is gaining momentum.

The bitter campaign has exposed deep divisions in the Conservative Party at the end of Johnson’s scandal-tarnished three-year reign. Opponents have branded Sunak a “socialist” for raising taxes in response to the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Sunak has hit back that his rivals are peddling economic “fairy tales.”

FILE – Elizabeth Truss Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs speaks to an aide as she leaves Downing Street in London, May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

The contenders are all trying to distance themselves from Johnson, whose term in office began boldly in 2019 with a vow to “get Brexit done” and a resounding election victory, but is now ending in disgrace.

He clung to office through months of scandals over his finances and his judgment, refusing to resign when he was fined by police over government parties that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules. He finally quit after one scandal too many — appointing a politician accused of sexual misconduct — drove his ministers to resign en masse.

Despite remaining prime minister, he has largely disappeared from the scene, even as Britain faces a summer cost-of-living crisis and labor discontent as inflation hits 9.4%.

Johnson did not attend any government emergency meetings about the heat wave that brought temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) to Britain this week. Last week he took a ride in a Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jet, with “Top Gun”-style footage released by his office, then threw a weekend party at Chequers, the country house that comes with the prime minister’s job.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who represents the opposition Labour Party, accused Johnson of wanting to “become Tom Cruise” and urged him to resign immediately.

“We need a full-time prime minister looking after our country rather than somebody who’s checked out,” Khan said.

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