The former chancellor admitted he found it strange that Johnson refused to go for “a couple of days” even as dozens of cabinet members and junior ministers began to resign.
Sunak said he had “reached out” to Johnson since his resignation over Partygate and “standards” helped spark a series of departures in early July – but said the PM was still ignoring his messages.
Asked on ITV’s This Morning if he had spoken to Johnson, he said: “No. No, I’ve reached out to him but understandably he’s not replied – that’s fair.”
Defending himself over accusations of disloyalty, the Tory candidate added: “But it wasn’t just me – at the end of the day 60 other members of the government all resigned as well.”
Asked if Johnson took too long to resign, Sunak said: “In the end it went on for a couple of days – it was a bit odd.”
Sunak also insisted he “definitely” still has a shot at becoming the next PM despite the latest YouGov poll of Tory members putting rival Liz Truss as the frontrunner by 66 per cent to 34 per cent.
Asked if he thought he could win the Tory race, the underdog told ITV’s This Morning: “Yes, definitely … I’m really excited to keep going.”
Sunak also criticised Truss after leaked audio revealed that thought British workers were not working hard enough, saying they needed “more graft” – remarks described as “absolutely disgraceful” by Labour.
Asked whether he agreed with Truss’s lazy workers comments, Sunak said: “No, I don’t that’s the issue at the moment. People are working their socks off to provide for their families.”
He added: “It’s no fault of theirs if there’s a war [in Ukraine] going on, that we’ve rightly decided to make a stand about, and that’s having an impact on energy prices.”
Sunak also promised “extra cash” for the most vulnerable this winter to ease the pain of soaring energy bills, attacking Truss’ decision to prioritise tax cuts over more direct support during the cost of living crisis.
“If the government embarks on a spree of just borrowing tens and tens and tens of billions of pounds, that means inflation could get worse,” he said. “It’s like putting fuel on the fire and that’s the mistake we made in the 70s, I don’t want to repeat that mistake.”
He also rejected Labour’s proposal to freeze energy costs as a “blunt instrument” that would not target those who do not need the support.
Sunak also claimed leadership elections should be about “under-promising and over-delivering – that’s how you restore trust in government and politics”.
He added: “That’s why in this leadership race I’ve not been making lots of easy promises that I think are false. I’d rather lose than say things I don’t think can be delivered – I’d rather be honest with people.”
It comes as Tory mayor of Tees Valley Ben Houchen – a Sunak backer – has said the party will be worse position at the next election after ousting Boris Johnson. “I didn’t think we should have got rid of him,” he told The Telegraph.
Houchen said: “Lots of first-time Conservative voters are completely bewildered, confused and actually quite upset that the Conservative Party got rid of Boris.”
Polls and focus groups have found evidence of “Johnson nostalgia” and lack of enthusiasm for either Sunak or Truss. The new YouGov study found that 55 per cent of Tory members think MPs were wrong to get rid of Johnson.
Education secretary James Cleverly also said he would have preferred the Tory race to have been “wrapped up quickly”, and suggested there should be a “review” to hasten leadership contests.
Asked by LBC radio if it was appropriate to hold weeks of hustings while the energy crisis continues, the minister said: “I do think it is legitimate to look at reviewing that … I would have been happy if this whole process was over more quickly.”