A major bookmaker in the UK slashed its odds that embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson will resign soon, with his Indian-origin Chancellor Rishi Sunak odds on favourite to step in at 10 Downing Street.
Betfair says the clock seems to be ticking for 57-year-old Johnson, who is facing pressure not only from the Opposition but also from within his own Conservative Party to step down in the wake of revelations of a drinks party at Downing Street during the country's first COVID-19 lockdown in May 2020.
Conspicuously, Sunak was missing from the House of Commons chamber on Wednesday when his boss issued a "heartfelt apology" for the apparent breach of lockdown guidelines.
"I've been on a visit all day today continuing work on our #PlanForJobs as well as meeting MPs to discuss the energy situation, Sunak, 41, tweeted, in an attempt to quash speculation that his absence by Johnson's side in Parliament was an attempt to distance himself from the beleaguered party leader.
The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray carries out her enquiry, Sunak, who is the Chancellor of the Exchequer since February 2020, said.
Some newspapers have interpreted the timing and content of Sunak's message of support as lukewarm backing for his boss and neighbour in Downing Street, the BBC reported.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray is currently investigating all alleged lockdown breaches within government quarters, including at Downing Street.
There have been a string of revelations around similar events in recent weeks, which Johnson has tried to justify as work events within the premises of his workplace. But there is growing infighting and disquiet within Tory party ranks, with many backbenchers speaking out to say his position was untenable after attending what appeared to be gatherings in breach of the rules in place at the time.
"In terms of a replacement, long term favourite Rishi Sunak still heads the betting at 15/8, with (Foreign Secretary) Liz Truss at 11/4 and (Cabinet Minister) Michael Gove at 6/1 the next two most likely alternatives should the PM vacate Number 10," Betfair's Sam Rosbottom told Wales Online'.
Other senior Tories in the running include former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at 8/1 and Indian-origin Home Secretary Priti Patel, Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden all tied for fifth place with 14/1.
"The latest betting suggests the clock is ticking for Boris Johnson, said Rosbottom.
The bookmaker also offers an exchange service where gamblers can create their own market for bets and on Betfair Exchange, the market is leaning towards the UK having a new Prime Minister by the end of the year. Betting odds comparison site Oddschecker also has Sunak ahead in the leadership stakes.
A YouGov poll for The Times' conducted before Johnson's apology in Parliament on Wednesday, found that six in 10 voters believed that Johnson should resign, including 38 per cent of those who voted Tory at the last election. It found that 78 per cent of the public did not believe that the Prime Minister had been honest in his answers to questions about the alleged parties. This included 63 per cent of Conservative voters.
Johnson's approval ratings are also at their lowest level yet, with the Tory party falling 10 points behind Opposition Labour, the biggest gap since December 2013.
"I want to apologise. I know that millions of people have made extraordinary sacrifices in the last 18 months. I know the rage they feel with me and with the government I lead when they think that in No 10 rules are not being followed, Johnson said in his Commons statement.
He said that he "believed implicitly" that it was a work-related event but regretted not breaking up the gathering and sending everyone back inside.
Johnson's hopes now hang on the ongoing internal investigation exonerating him of wrongdoing, even as the pressure for him to resign is likely to play out for some time.
The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) have called on Johnson to resign, claiming he broke Covid rules.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told the Commons: "The prime minister's not fit to lick the boots of NHS staff in this country."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Johnson cancelled a trip to a vaccination centre on Thursday after an unnamed family member tested positive for coronavirus. Although he is not required to isolate as a close contact under the current rules, his office said that he has taken advice not to travel.
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