Saturday 19 October 2019

Theresa May expected to announce departure date today as speculation mounts about new leadership contest

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Bloomberg
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Bloomberg
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville
End game: Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave a polling station after casting their votes in her Maidenhead constituency. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA

Guy Faulconbridge

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to announce the date of her departure today, triggering a contest that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a more decisive Brexit divorce deal.

After a crisis-riven premiership of almost three years, Mrs May is due to meet Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful Conservative 1922 Committee, which can make or break prime ministers, to set out a timetable for her departure.

Mrs May is expected to make a statement by mid-morning.

"The 1922 Committee are coming in with a revolver and basically pointing it at her head," said Gus O'Donnell, Britain's top civil servant from 2005 to 2011.

"He (Brady) will leave the room and possibly leave the revolver in there."

Mrs May, once a reluctant supporter of EU membership, who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit vote, steps down with her central pledges - to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions - unfulfilled.

She endured repeated crises and humiliation in her effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify, and bequeaths a deeply divided country and a political elite that is deadlocked over how, when or whether to leave the EU.

The treasurer of the 1922 Committee, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, said he expected Mrs May would stay on as a caretaker prime minister while a successor was chosen.

"It would be much tidier if she stays on as caretaker while we go through our processes of electing a leader of the Conservative Party who will then eventually take over as prime minister," Clifton-Brown told the BBC.

The leadership election is likely to last about six weeks, starting on June 10, after US President Donald Trump's state visit to Britain.

Mrs May's departure will deepen the Brexit crisis as a new leader is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the European Union and a snap parliamentary election.

The leading contenders to succeed Mrs May all want a tougher divorce deal, although the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Treaty it sealed in November.

Boris Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in 2016, is the favourite to succeed Mrs May. Betting markets put a 40 per cent implied probability on Johnson winning the top job.

Others tipped by betting markets are Dominic Raab, a Brexit supporter and former UK Brexit secretary. Betting markets put a 14pc implied probability on his chances.

UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove, former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt each have a 7pc probability, according to betting markets.

Betting markets give British Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart each a 4pc chance of the top job while Home Secretary (interior minister) Sajid Javid has a 3pc chance.

Reuters

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