The dust had barely settled on UK Prime Minister’s Theresa May’s tearful resignation speech before candidates began lining up to replace her. The next leader of the Conservative Party, and by default the next prime minister, will have a huge task on their hands.
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Twelve members of Parliament have declared their intention to be the next Conservative leader. That person will face the same goals that May failed to achieve — to unite the country and deliver Brexit — which is far easier said than done.
According to the Institute for Government, here’s how the process of electing a new leader works: “The election takes place in two stages. In the first stage (shortlisting), Conservative MPs put their own names forward. In the 2016 leadership election, they also needed the nominations of two other MPs to be allowed to stand.
MPs then vote in a series of rounds to whittle down the candidates. In each round, the person with the fewest votes is removed. This continues until there are only two candidates remaining. Then, in stage two, the party membership is balloted on which of the two candidates they prefer.”
Let’s take a look at the lead contenders.
The former mayor of London, Johnson is currently the favorite to be next prime minister. He is massively popular with the Conservative Party membership. He is, however, a divisive figure. He led the official campaign to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, which bolsters his Brexit credentials, but he is not known for his political honesty. According to reports in the British media, Johnson has been ordered to appear in court over allegations that he lied during the Referendum campaign. He is also greatly admired by President Trump, who recently declared him a “friend.”
The second favorite is the current secretary of state for the environment, Michael Gove. He campaigned for Brexit alongside Johnson in the 2016 referendum, but unlike his rival, he supported Theresa May all the way. He is generally considered a highly intelligent reformer with big ideas, who could prove to be a wily negotiator as the Oct. 31 deadline for leaving the EU approaches.
Dominic Raab formerly served as Brexit secretary, a position that meant he was supposedly in charge of the negotiations. He resigned in 2017, claiming that the deal Theresa May had negotiated left the U.K. too closely tied to the EU. After he resigned he became one of the prime minister’s staunchest critics. Raab claims to be a “details man,” despite being accused by an opposition lawmaker that he “doesn’t even understand the very basics of Brexit.”
Leadsom is a former senior government minister who resigned on the eve of May’s departure. She unsuccessfully ran against May for the party leadership in 2016. Her campaign was marred by controversy after she told The Times, Britain’s daily newspaper, that being a mother gave her a “very real stake” in Britain’s future. She later apologized to May, who does not have children. She is a staunch Brexit supporter but that alone is unlikely to secure her enough support to win.
Stewart, initially a Remain supporter (the only one among the favorites) who supported Theresa May’s Brexit plan, is considered a dark horse in the race for the Conservative leadership. He is considered to be rather inexperienced, as his highest role in government has only been as secretary of state for international development. He has been by far the most vocal of the prospective leaders so far, traveling around the country to speak to ordinary voters. He has said he will rule out leaving the EU without a deal. Stewart also had a colorful career before entering politics. He wrote a bestselling memoir about walking across Afghanistan in 2002. He recently admitted to smoking opium on a trip to Iran, which he called a “stupid mistake.”