Following an insurmountable level of pressure, Theresa May has confirmed that she will resign as leader of the Conservative Party on June 7, in order for a Conservative Party leadership election to take place from June 10.
The 1922 Committee will set out the terms of a leadership contest which is expected to last six weeks. Brexit will clearly dominate the race, with time increasingly tight for a new leader to set out any new direction before the deadline of 31 October for the UK’s departure from the EU. While the leadership race will be seen by Tories as an opportunity to shape Brexit, it’s not clear how any future leader would practically renegotiate a deal with the EU.
In addition to the three significant defeats to May’s deal in Parliament, voters have begun to abandon the Conservative Party in droves. On Sunday the results of the election for the European Parliament will be published, with the Conservatives expected to record its lowest ever national vote tally with the one-issue Brexit Party as the main beneficiary. Investors widely expected Mrs May’s departure, and the value of the pound has moved little after the announcement. Sterling was up slightly but remained near its lowest point against the dollar all year, buying $1.268.
Under the rules of the Conservative Party, a leadership contest starts with prospective candidates seeking nominations from Conservative MPs. Once they reach 10 per cent of the Party’s MPs, they proceed to the next stage. MPs then vote for their preferred candidates in a series of contests, and each time, the candidate with the fewest votes leaves the race. This process is repeated until just two candidates remain. Once we reach this point the Conservative Party’s members will vote to choose the winner. Conservative Party members are seen as favouring a “harder” version of Brexit than Conservative MPs collectively do – meaning there might be politicking behind the scene to ensure a “Brexiteer” candidate in the final two.
The new leader will face the same parliamentary arithmetic and blocks on any Brexit deal which May has experienced, but will have the power to call another general election or press on ahead. This will likely be point of contention during the leadership race itself.
In her departing speech, Mrs May said she had done “everything I can” to gain support for her Brexit deal, but said it is now in the “best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort”. She added that for the next leader to succeed “he or she will have to find consensus in Parliament where I have not. Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise.”
The runners and riders in the race to succeed Theresa May have already been busy setting out their stalls with more than 15 MPs trying to launch leadership campaigns. This crowded field will be quickly cut down as the marginal candidates fall in behind the frontrunners, with each candidate looking to canvass the necessary support from their own MPs.
Only three candidates – Boris Johnson, Esther McVey and Rory Stewart – have so far formally declared their intention to stand for the leadership, but there will be many more.
Amongst the likely candidates there are a range of views on the willingness to leave the EU without a deal. The group that might support a no-deal exit includes Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss and Esther McVey. Former Remainers who have not ruled out no-deal include Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid. Whilst likely runners who have backed May’s deal – previously – and are against no-deal are Michael Gove, Rory Stewart, Matt Hancock and Amber Rudd.
H+K will share a summary of the analysis of the frontrunners at the start of next week, as well as their expressed desires for the Brexit negotiations and policy proposals.