Former United Kingdom (UK) Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss emerged as the final two candidates in the country's Tory leadership race on Wednesday.
International Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt was knocked out in the final round of ballot among Conservative lawmakers. Sunak won 137 votes, Truss received 113.
The contest to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister will now go before the Conservative Party's 200,000-odd dues-paying members, who will select the winner later this summer via mail-in ballot. The winner, to be announced on Sept. 5, will automatically become Johnson's successor.
Though Sunak has won each of the five rounds of voting by lawmakers, a YouGov poll published on Tuesday showed that he was less popular with the party's grassroots. He is predicted to lose to Truss, a favorite of the party's right wing, in the head-to-head contest.
Both candidates have made pledges on tax cuts as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite. However, Sunak dismissed as "fairytales" his rivals' promises of immediate tax cuts, arguing that inflation must be brought under control first. Inflation in the UK rose by 9.4 percent in June, hitting a fresh 40-year high, official statistics showed on Wednesday.
Truss, on the other hand, promised to start cutting taxes from day one.
The Tory leadership race was triggered after Johnson was forced to step down on July 7 by an avalanche of resignations of government officials, who protested against his scandal-plagued leadership. Johnson continues to serve as caretaker prime minister until a new Tory leader succeeds him.
Johnson, who won a landslide victory in the general elections in 2019, lost support after he was caught in a string of scandals, including the Partygate scandal and the Chris Pincher scandal involving his appointment of Pincher, a politician accused of sexual misconduct, to a high-level post.
But Johnson defended his record in his last appearance in the Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, shortly before the ballot results were announced. The lawmakers will start their summer recess on Thursday.
Claiming that "mission largely accomplished - for now," he once again touted his achievements of pulling off the Brexit deal, rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine and helping Ukraine during his three-year premiership.
Johnson signed off his farewell speech by saying "Hasta la vista, baby" (See you later), a famous phrase used by Hollywood legend Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Terminator, sparking speculation that he aims to make a political comeback.