Who will replace Theresa May: Runners, riders for next UK PM

British PM Theresa May
British Prime Minister Theresa May attends a press conference after the first-day meeting of EU’s spring summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 22, 2019. (Xinhua/European Union/IANS)

London, May 24 (IANS) Theresa May has announced her resignation as UK Prime Minister and Conservative leader in two weeks’ time on June 7 amid significant pressure for her to quit after failing to deliver Brexit, but who will replace her for the top job? Here are all the runners and riders for the top position.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, 54, is currently the “out-and-out” favourite to take over from May, the UK media reported. The leading Leave campaigner, he has been tacitly campaigning for the leadership and went public last week to confirm he would run.

As an increasingly hawkish Brexiteer who says we should not be afraid of leaving without a deal, he is hugely popular with the Conservative party faithful. At the beginning of 2019, Johnson underwent what might be deemed a “Prime-Ministerial” makeover, losing weight and taming his blonde hair.

He had earlier rejected warnings about the impact of a No Deal Brexit, insisting: “Whatever the doomsters may say … there will be no shortage of Mars bars, we will still have potable drinking water in Britain. The planes will fly, the ferries will ply.”

Popular with the rank-and-file membership, he has less fans in the parliamentary party and may face a concerted campaign to block his succession.

His nearest rival is former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, 45, who said he might announce his candidacy after the European election results on Sunday. He is another “Vote Leave” member who became Brexit Secretary after David Davis quit alongside Johnson in July 2018 over the Chequers plan.

But he lasted just a matter of months before he too jumped ship, saying he could not accept the terms of the deal done by May.

Like Johnson, Raab has become an increasingly hardline Brexiteer, suggesting “we should not be afraid of a no-deal Brexit”. His decision to quit in November boosted his popularity with party members but he lacks the wider popular appeal of Johnson.

However, his odds have shortened as he is seen as possibly a more palatable alternative Brexiteer to Boris by MPs seeking to block Johnson’s run.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, 52, is another option to replace May as he is known to have leadership aspirations and now says he backs Brexit despite campaigning for Remain during the referendum.

A long-serving Health Secretary, Hunt has reportedly been selling himself to colleagues as a unity candidate who can bring together the fractious Tory factions into something approaching a cohesive party.

Next is 51-year-old Environment Secretary Michael Gove — a Brexiteer with a Machiavellian reputation after the 2016 leadership campaign in which he first supported Johnson for the leadership and then stood against him, to their mutual disadvantage.

Despite being a former lead figure in the Vote Leave campaign alongside Johnson, he has swung behind May’s Brexit deal — which might count against him.

But while he noisily supports the Brexit deal, he views the alternatives as worse. Gove was quieter when it came to supporting May and practically mute when it came to her future.

Seen as one of the Cabinet’s strongest political thinkers and having stood once, he might stand again. But like many others he has yet to publicly declare his candidacy.

Andrea Leadsom, a Leave supporter whose decision to quit as leader of the House of Commons helped trigger May’s departure, is another significant candidate on the Eurosceptic wing of the party. She was May’s adversary last time and dropped out of the race before the Conservative membership had a chance to vote.

The other leading candidates from May’s cabinet are Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Health Secretary Matt Hancock – who may struggle with the party membership over their support for the Prime Minister’s unpopular Brexit deal.

Other hopefuls from the Cabinet include International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss.

The bookies have been giving Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn strong odds as the nation’s next Prime Minister. But his odds are drifting as it is now inevitable that the next PM will be a Tory.

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