The contest to replace Theresa May as prime minister is underway and following the disastrous results in the EU elections last night the potential candidates are plotting to succeed where she failed by taking a deeply-divided Britain out of the European Union.
It has become clear overnight, that Brexit is the single most contentious issues dividing public opinion and parliament.
Last week on Friday, Theresa May announced she was quitting over her failure to deliver Brexit, raising the prospect of a new leader who could seek a more divisive split with the EU and lead to confrontation with the bloc or a possible parliamentary election.
British health minister Matt Hancock, ex-Brexit minister Dominic Raab and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom joined an increasingly crowded field to replace May.
It has become clear that many of the top conservative MP’s have been more focused on developing an opportunity to succeed May as the leader, than supporting the government to deliver Brexit.
Former foreign minister Boris Johnson, current foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart and former work and pensions minister Esther McVey had already announced they would stand.
About a dozen contenders in total are thought to be considering a tilt at the leadership with newspapers reporting that environment minister Michael Gove was expected to announce his candidacy on Sunday.
That should also provide a real bitter battle between Gove and Johnson, who have history, stemming from the last leadership challenge where Gove was accused of ‘stabbing’ Boris in the back.
May’s downfall came from three failed attempts to get a divorce deal she agreed with the EU, passed through parliament because of deep, long-term divisions in the Conservative Party over Europe. It meant the original Brexit date of March 29 has been extended until Oct. 31 to see if any compromise could be reached.
All those standing say they could build a consensus or amend May’s deal, although the EU has said it would not renegotiate the treaty.
“We have to propose a deal that will get through this parliament,” Hancock told BBC radio. “We have to be brutally honest about the trade-offs.”
Raab, a leading figure among pro-Brexit Conservatives, said he did not want to exit without a deal, but would do so if the EU refused to budge, a stance echoed by Leadsom, who quit the government on Wednesday over May’s deal.
The high profile contestant for the Conservative leadership post is former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has said he will take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 even if a deal has not been reached with EU leaders.
Boris Johnson’s willingness to back a no-deal Brexit is already causing some ripples and if he does succeed to become the next PM, the likelihood of leaving the EU in October with a no-deal Brexit is a growing possibility.
The field is likely to grow to about a dozen candidates, with a winner expected to be chosen by mid or late July. Senior Conservatives including Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom are among those considering a leadership run.
The Conservative Party chooses its leaders in a two-step process. First, there’s a series of votes among the party’s legislators to establish two top contenders, then those names are submitted to a nationwide vote by about 120,000 party members. The winner becomes party leader and prime minister.
The opposition, the Labour Party is warning of an immediate challenge to the new leader with an eye toward forcing an early general election. Following the EU elections result, Jeremey Corbyn hinted towards supporting a second referendum.
Brexit is set to dominate the contest which will begin in the week of June 10 when Conservative lawmakers begin to whittle down the field before party members, about 160,000 according to the Sunday Telegraph, choose the winner from the final two candidates.
Many economists and business leaders have warned that a no-deal departure would have a drastically negative impact on Britain’s economy and also hurt its European neighbours.
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