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Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss named finalists to be next U.K. prime minister

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LONDON — The next prime minister of Britain and leader of the Conservative Party is now guaranteed to be an ethnic minority or a woman, after Tory lawmakers on Wednesday selected two finalists — former finance minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — with a winner to be announced in September.

While Boris Johnson continues as a kind of happy-go-lucky caretaker prime minister, the contest to replace him will now go before the 200,000 or so dues-paying Conservative Party members, who will select, via mail-in ballot, Johnson’s successor.

There will be no general election to pick the new prime minister, and many of the “hustings” events will be off-the-record or out of eyeshot for the British press.

How the next U.K. prime minister will be chosen

The matchup between Sunak and Truss offer Tory voters a choice between a man who says he is the only adult in the race and a woman who says she is the only one who has shown true leadership.

If Truss wins, it would be the third time that the Conservative Party put a women in the highest office, following premierships by Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

The two contenders are both conservatives, and to the outside world their political differences are subtle.

Truss supports a bunch of tax cuts.

Sunak says Britain must first get inflation under control. He has suggested that tax cuts are a kind of “fantasy island” economics, and that Truss and her side have no idea how they will pay for the borrowing needed to keep the British government afloat after two years of pandemic subsidies.

Sunak is a former Goldman Sachs heavy, a former hedge fund manager. He married really rich. His wife, whom he met at Stanford, is the daughter of N.R. Narayana Murthy, the Indian billionaire who founded Infosys.

Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty made the Sunday Times Rich List of the Britain’s wealthiest 250 people, with a joint fortune estimated to be £730 million, or about $875 million.

Truss is Britain’s first Tory female foreign secretary, who says she is ready to run the country “from day one.”

Truss has won applause her support of the Ukraine war — and has been a target of criticism from Russia.

Although she opposed the Brexit referendum in 2016, she has since said she regrets that vote, and she has been a prominent voice for the argument that Britain needs to rewrite the provisions on Northern Ireland in its post-Brexit trade agreement.

The two will spend the summer — at golf course luncheons, civic center auditoria, discreet gatherings with donors — making their cases.

Meanwhile, Johnson will be bidding a long goodbye. On Wednesday, he said farewell to the House of Commons — and to his fellow lawmakers who gave him the boot — in a rowdy appearance marking the near-end of his premiership and this weird, shape-shifting Age of Boris.

Or as Johnson put it, “I want to thank everybody here, and hasta la vista, baby!”

Seriously, those were his final words — borrowing of the catchphrase popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film “Terminator 2.”

Riffing on President George W. Bush’s premature declaration of victory in Iraq, Johnson declared his legacy: “mission largely accomplished.”

Was it fitting? Was it glib? Was it … genius? Johnson, a serial blusterer who relishes the role of entertaining after-dinner speaker, won the heart of his party and the country with such lines.

And don’t forget, Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, not once but twice.

Johnson is on the way out. But many in the halls of Westminster anticipate that he could someday make a comeback.

What next for Boris Johnson? Books, columns, speeches, comeback?

It was not a somber farewell from him Wednesday, but all surface, all talking points, all greatest hits, delivered with fist pumps and the prime minister’s trademark runaway high-speed elocution.

The House of Commons was packed — and roaring, filled with the usual insults and point scoring, as is typical in the weekly session known as Prime Minister’s Questions, a gladiatorial contest for debaters who graduated from Oxford and Cambridge.

There was braying, there was harrumphing, there was “chuntering from a sedentary position,” a previous legendary speaker of the House once called it.

Johnson on Wednesday stood in the prime minister’s spot at the “despatch box” for what he called “probably, certainly” his last verbal battering.

At the end of his remarks he gave this advice to his successor:

“Stay close to the Americans, stick up for the Ukrainians, stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere.”

Who will be the next U.K. prime minister? What to know about the candidates.

And also: “Cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can to make this the greatest place to live and invest.”

“Focus on the road ahead but always remember to check the rear view mirror,” the prime minister said.

“And remember, above all, it’s not Twitter that counts. It’s the people that sent us here,” he closed.

Early in the hour, Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, asked Johnson what message the public might take as the contenders for his job “can’t find a single decent thing” to say about the prime minister or his government’s record?

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