Candidates face first cull in battle to be British PM

PM hopeful Boris Johnson leaves his home in London, , June 13, 2019. — Reuters pic
PM hopeful Boris Johnson leaves his home in London, , June 13, 2019. — Reuters pic

LONDON, June 13 — The 10 candidates running to replace Britain’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May face the first round of voting today — when at least one will get the chop.

Conservative MPs hold their first secret ballot in the governing party’s leadership contest as they begin whittling down the contenders.

All 313 lawmakers can vote and any candidate who does not garner the support of 16 colleagues will drop out. If they all clear that hurdle, the one with the lowest number of votes is knocked out.

May, who remains prime minister, stepped down as the centre-right party’s leader on Friday, having failed to deliver her plan for taking Britain out of the European Union after nearly three years in the post.

Bookmakers have ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson as their odds-on favourite to win the contest to replace her.

The former London mayor launched his campaign yesterday, saying he would only take Britain out of the EU without a deal as a “last resort” as he promised to unify a country deeply divided over Brexit.

A cross-party effort to block a chaotic end to the 46-year partnership failed yesterday, potentially leaving more room for manoeuvre for a future premier.

Parliament may now have run out of options to block a no-deal Brexit by the next PM, admitted Oliver Letwin, one of the plan’s architects.

“I have really struggled very hard to think of every available opportunity and I can’t currently think of any more,” the Conservative MP told BBC radio today.

Johnson said that if parliament blocks Brexit completely, “we will reap the whirlwind and we will face mortal retribution from the electorate”.

Drugs and backbiting

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is considered Johnson’s closest challenger.

Interior minister Sajid Javid, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab also have enough publicly-declared backers to make it through to the second round.

The contest so far has been dominated by revelations of past drug-taking by candidates and bickering over the best way to resolve the Brexit impasse.

But today’s voting will reveal each candidate’s current level of support.

The ballot takes place in a Houses of Parliament committee room between 10:00am (0900 GMT) and 12:00pm (1100 GMT), with the results expected to be announced around an hour later.

Former pensions secretary Esther McVey and ex-immigration minister Mark Harper are considered the most vulnerable.

McVey is pursuing a no-deal Brexit, arguing that the agreement struck by May keeps Britain too closely tied to the EU. Harper says an extension would be needed beyond the October 31 deadline to secure a deal.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who is against no-deal, may have enough votes to scrape through.

“We’ve got to deliver Brexit; but then we’ve got to win a majority by appealing to aspirational people in the centre ground of British politics, where there’s a gaping hole,” he told The Guardian newspaper.

TV test

Former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, a managed no-deal supporter, told ITV television she was “very optimistic” of having enough votes to get through.

Meanwhile International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, the contender most vehemently against leaving the EU without a deal, told The Sun newspaper he feared he was still “one or two votes short”.

The survivors face their first live television debate on Sunday in a 90-minute programme on Channel 4.

They have another round of hustings before Conservative MPs on Monday before Tuesday’s second ballot, when the bar rises from 16 backers to 32, again with the contender with the fewest votes dropping out.

After further rounds of voting next week, the party hopes to be down to the last two by the end of June 20.

After weeks of hustings around the country, the 160,000 grass-roots Conservative party members pick the winner, with the result announced in the week beginning July 22.

May will then step down as prime minister and the new leader of the largest party in parliament will be appointed as PM by Queen Elizabeth II. — AFP

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