Published: 17:38, May 25, 2024
More Tory MPs set to quit than before 1997 defeat
By Reuters
In this May 24, 2024 photo, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak talks to journalists on his plane as he travels from Northern Ireland to Birmingham during a day of campaigning for this year's general election due to be held on July 4. (POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

LONDON – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a mass departure of lawmakers with the number of resignations surpassing the level the Conservative Party suffered before a landslide defeat in the 1997 election.

Sunak, in power since 2022, this week called a national election for July 4, but his party is far behind in the opinion polls after a period of high inflation, low economic growth, and a steady stream of political scandals.

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The number of Conservative members of parliament (MPs) who will not be standing at the next election reached 78 on Friday, more than the 72 in the run-up to the 1997 election.

There comes a moment when you know that it is time to leave. That a new generation should lead.

Michael Gove, Conservative Party, UK

Late on Friday, Michael Gove, a veteran Conservative who has held several government roles and was a leading voice in the push for Britain to leave the European Union, said he was also standing down.

"There comes a moment when you know that it is time to leave. That a new generation should lead," he said in a letter.

Andrea Leadsom, who also held ministerial roles and ran for the Conservative leadership in 2016 but lost to Theresa May, said she would also stand down at the election.

Conservative members of parliament said so many colleagues were leaving because it was unlikely the party would win the election and many had grown tired of the infighting and polarization in parliament.

All the opinion polls predict Sunak will lose the election with his Conservatives trailing the opposition Labour Party by about 20 percentage points.

Only 12 Conservative members of parliament said they would stand down in the run up to 2017 election, while 32 lawmakers stood down before the 2019 election, according to the House of Commons Library.

Defense minister Grant Shapps said earlier there was nothing unusual about the number of lawmakers leaving.

"You often get a lot standing down at election time," he told Sky News. "You often get this illusion that there are more standing down from the governing side and, of course, the good reason for that is there are, by definition, more MPs on the governing side."

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Former business minister Greg Clark and veteran Brexit supporter John Redwood were among the Conservative lawmakers who announced they were standing down on Friday.

Some of the Conservative Party's best-known politicians have already said they will stand down, including former prime minister May.