Stuart Rose, the veteran retailer and Conservative peer, has urged Boris Johnson to leave No 10 now, describing him as a “lame duck prime minister”.
His comments came as a series of business leaders and Tory donors, from the hotelier and Brexit backer Rocco Forte to the telecoms entrepreneur David Ross, gave their reaction to Johnson’s resignation and called for his successor to boost the UK long-term economic prospects amid fears of an impending recession.
It has been suggested Johnson could remain as caretaker prime minister, possibly until the autumn when a new Conservative party leader is elected.
Lord Rose, the chair of Asda and former boss of Marks & Spencer, said: “This has been too long in happening and it is unsustainable to continue with a hamstrung, lame duck prime minister into the autumn. There doesn’t seem to be anybody dealing with the serious issue of the economy. This political crisis has hamstrung everything.”
A new leader will face a worsening economy, with inflation at a 40-year high, energy prices expected to rise further as winter approaches, and predictions among some economists of an imminent recession.
However, Archie Norman, the chair of M&S and a former Conservative MP, said that moving on from Johnson could open up a new chapter in British politics beyond a focus on Brexit. “The public are thirsting for a new civility in public discourse,” he said. “That means a more grownup tone, straight talking and respect for the truth, however unpalatable.”
Norman said he first met Johnson in 1994 when he was a journalist. “He was a good colleague in my time in parliament. It was sad watching his regime degenerate. But this is now a great opportunity to embark on a new post-partisan era, to stop framing every question against the context of Brexit, and to reach out across the water to bring together all the talents across the Conservative party to build a proper recovery plan for the UK economy.”
The Carphone Warehouse co-founder David Ross, who has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservatives, urged the next prime minister to “continue the hugely important levelling up programme, creating equal opportunities for all across the UK”. He said: “We also need to give some real focus on selling post-Brexit Britain to the international community and be clear with them about what our economic vision is for the future and how this is a great place to do business.”
Forte, who gave Johnson £100,000 towards his last election campaign, said Johnson’s regime “was not a pro-business, pro-enterprise government”. He said policies such as the windfall tax on oil and gas companies had been “myopic”.
“The government has a very shortsighted view – the idea we have to pay off the Covid debts immediately is nonsense. I hope whoever comes next has a more cohesive, longer-term view of the economy.”
John Caudwell, the billionaire founder of Phones 4U, called for the next prime minister to take an “even stronger lead in supporting Ukraine”, and to tackle climate change with urgency. He said he wanted them to get “appropriate aid to the most vulnerable suffering during the current cost of living crisis”.
Caudwell sent a plan to the former chancellor Rishi Sunak to rebuild the economy after Covid by focusing on infrastructure, inward investment, an environmental Silicon Valley and apprenticeships. “In these and all other ways, fight like fury to keep the ‘great’ in Great Britain,” he said.
The donors were reluctant to throw their weight behind any one candidate to succeed Johnson. Forte said there was “no obvious successor”, adding that Steve Baker, the MP for Wycombe, was “a very good man who has the right ideas to take the country forward” but that he lacked support within the Tory party.
Ross said it was too early to name his preferred candidate and he would wait to see the “philosophy” of the next regime before donating again. Caudwell said the new chancellor Nadhim Zahawi’s background in business meant he had “a lot to offer” and the former health secretary Sajid Javid was a strong contender.
Jim O’Neill, the former Treasury minister and crossbench peer, said: “We need a leader that has a coherent policy of trying to boost our productivity.”