Johnson could become new UK Prime Minister in just nine weeks’ time
Boris Johnson could become Prime Minister in just nine weeks’ time after Conservative MPs called for David Cameron to be gone and a new leader put in place by September.
As MPs returned to Westminster for the first time since the historic Brexit vote, the party’s influential 1922 Committee said a new Conservative leader should be in place by September 2, with nominations set to open tomorrow.
Announcing his resignation last week, Mr Cameron had said a new Prime Minister should be appointed to negotiate the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU by October.
But the shorter timescale, which must be approved by the party’s board today, will favour Mr Johnson, the frontrunner in the race, allowing him to harness the momentum from Leave’s referendum victory to garner support among the 125,000 Conservative members who will elect the next leader, and the next PM.
Addressing MPs in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Cameron said there could be “no doubt about the result” of the referendum but warned of difficult days ahead.
A special Whitehall ‘Brexit unit’ will be set up to explore the options facing Britain in its new relationship with the EU, he said, admitting that it would be “the most complex and most important task the British civil service has undertaken in decades”.
However, all key decisions will wait until the appointment of a new Prime Minister, Mr Cameron said.
Mr Johnson, who was not in the House of Commons chamber yesterday, is considered the frontrunner to replace Mr Cameron and is expected to announce his candidacy this week.
The new leader will come under immediate pressure to call a general election. The former Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said it would be wrong that only members of the Conservative Party should be able to appoint the new Prime Minister “of a new government, with new priorities” and called for an early general election this year.
Mr Cameron, who will stay on as an MP after standing down, will remain neutral during the Conservative leadership contest, Downing Street confirmed. He told MPs it would be for the next Prime Minister to determine whether a general election is called this year.
It will also be up to the new Prime Minister to activate Article 50 – the formal procedure by which member states can leave the EU – and to negotiate the terms of Britain’s new relationship with the bloc.
The key battle line will centre on Britain’s access to the European single market. Mr Cameron told MPs that it would be “one of the single most important decisions” for the government, emphasising the single market’s importance for the economy and jobs market.
Mr Johnson has claimed the UK could still have access to the single market – but to do so would entail adopting a relationship with the EU similar to Norway’s, and still being bound by freedom of movement rules.
After the Leave campaign led by Mr Johnson fought the referendum campaign on a promise to cut immigration, staying in the single market at this cost would be seen as a betrayal of Brexit voters.