With the Conservative Party leadership contest already well underway, we look at who could be the next prime minister and how they plan to negotiate Brexit.

Theresa May has become the second British Prime Minister to resign due to Brexit, following her predecessor David Cameron. 

May has struggled to push the Brexit withdrawal agreement through parliament in the face of fierce resistance from both her Conservative Party and the opposition. 

May's announcement on May 25 that she would resign came a day after EU parliamentary elections that were held in Britain, which put her party in third place, with the Brexit Party coming in first.

On June 10, nominations closed for would-be candidates from the Conservative party, seeking to become British Prime Minister. And the list is long, with 10 candidates in total.

So who could be the next British prime minister? 

The process

Stage one

10 June - All the leadership candidates are confirmed

13 June - First ballot held 

18-20 June - Successive ballots are held only by Members of Parliament from the Conservative Party who will whittle the list of ten candidates down to two. 

Stage two

22 June - The first postal ballots and hustings will begin to give the Conservative Party membership of 124,000 a chance to see the candidates in action

22 July - The day the Conservative Party announces who will be the next prime minister of the UK. The campaigning between the two finalists could last for up to one month. 

Boris Johnson

The former foreign secretary resigned from Theresa May’s government in July 2018 suggesting that if her Brexit plan were adopted, it would reduce Britain to the “the status of a colony.”

Johnson initially attempted to become prime minister in 2016 shortly after the Brexit referendum, but his campaign imploded soon after and May was anointed without a party-wide leadership contest.

However, Johnson never entirely gave up his leadership ambitions and has been an open stalking horse since his 2018 resignation. 

Speaking to the BBC, Boris Johnson has openly confirmed that he will once again attempt to run for the Conservative Party leadership. 

“Of course I’m going to go for it,” he said, confident in the knowledge that he is one of the favourites amongst the Conservative Party membership, although distinctly less popular amongst Conservative MPs. 

Johnson campaigned for Brexit in 2016 and is seen as one of the people that has done the most to deliver it. The gaffe-prone politician voted for May’s Brexit deal when it was put to parliament the third time. 

May, who campaigned for Remain during the referendum, lost trust amongst her party because they did not believe that she could deliver what she did not want. 

Now the party and the country may have a true Brexiteer at the helm.

Dominic Raab

Like Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab quit May’s cabinet in late 2018 over Brexit. 

The Brexit Secretary delivered a damning indictment on May’s deal which he has suggested would lock the UK into the EU’s orbit for years to come. Raab has described the EU’s approach to negotiations with the UK as “blackmail”. 

Raab is a hard Brexiteer who has advocated for leaving the EU even without a deal and what he believes would be short economic pain. 

Many in his party are against the idea of leaving the EU without a deal, meaning Raab would likely find it hard to unify the party under his leadership.

Jeremy Hunt

Currently, the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is seen as a close ally of May and has pitched himself as the ‘continuity candidate.’

Given, however, that Hunt backed the Remain campaign, it could impact his ability to seek support from the breadth of his party, in particular, the hard Brexiteers that have made May’s life difficult and ultimately brought her down.

Hunt has aimed to pitch himself as a moderate who will accommodate Remainer concerns while delivering Brexit. In an interview, he has said that he has changed his mind on Brexit because of the EU’s “arrogant” attitude towards the UK.

However, he could find, as May did, that trying to appease both sides eventually makes everyone unhappy. Hunt has been quietly building his electoral campaign over several months to succeed Theresa May. 

Michael Gove

As one of the few Brexiteers remaining in the cabinet, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is seen as a potential contender for the top job. 

In 2016 he dramatically torpedoed Boris Johnson's leadership bid and then attempted to run himself. They both lost; however, some are suggesting that he may well try again. 

Gove is considered an intellectual policymaker who could get the job done, however, his appeal amongst the wider population is still trailing that of Boris Johnson.

His recent admission that he took cocaine while he was working as a journalist has damaged in his standing as a frontrunner. 

The other candidates are:

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock
  • Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey
  • Former Chief Whip Mark Harper
  • Home Secretary Sajid Javid
  • International Development Secretary Rory Stewart
  • Former Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom

Any future successful candidate will have to bring together a divided Conservative Party that has struggled to unite in the face of bitter divisions over the Withdrawal Agreement. 

The Conservative Party members of parliament will also be looking for someone that can counter the threat from the recently created Brexit Party lead by Nigel Farage that came first in the European Union elections. 

A future Prime Minister would have to show a full commitment to Brexit which could be a difficult balancing act given that many Conservative parliamentarians are Remainers.

Source: TRT World