Tory MPs have been fighting like rats in a sack over the party leadership for some time, but now that Theresa May has formally announced that she will step down on June 7, everyone can stop pretending and just get on with it. Here are some of the key faces in the running.
Boris Johnson: The former foreign secretary is currently the favourite. Having abandoned his 2016 leadership bid thanks to the last minute betrayal by Michael Gove, he is back to give it another shot. “Of course I’m going to go for it,” he said last week. Johnson, who was the face of the Vote Leave campaign, is the favourite of the Tory grassroots.
Some MPs believe Johnson’s populist touch is what is needed to reconnect with voters and see off the challenge from both Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage. But there are many other MPs who want to block him from becoming one of the the final two that party members can choose from - in part due to his potential support for a no-deal Brexit. In recent days Johnson, who has been eerily quiet has reached out to the One Nation group of more liberal Tories led by Amber Rudd.
Dominic Raab: The former Brexit secretary is probably the second favourite behind Johnson. He quit the government over May’s exit plan and has positioned himself as a more hardline no-dealer. And as is often noted, the favourite does not usually end up winning Tory leadership races. As part of his undeclared leadership bid, Raab posed with his wife in their kitchen for an interview with The Sunday Times.
Jeremy Hunt: The foreign secretary has undergone quite the conversion on Brexit since the referendum. Shortly after the result, Hunt suggested a second referendum should be held. But fast forward two years and he was comparing the EU to the USSR - a comparison that was a bit much even for some hardcore eurosceptic Tory MPs. “People who were for Remain trying to appeal to Brexiteers time and again go too far,” leading Brexiteer Steve Baker said at the time.
Hunt says the next leader should be someone who “believes in Brexit”. Which conveniently for him is not the same as someone who voted for it at the time.
Sajid Javid: The home secretary was once seen as the frontrunner to become party leader but may now be playing catchup. A eurosceptic, the former banker surprised many in the party when he backed Remain in 2016. Rumours that May was about to be forced out this week went into overdrive when it was revealed Javid had asked to see her privately.
His decision to strip Isis bride Shamima Begum of her British citizenship was criticised in some quarters as one made to further his leadership ambitions.
Michael Gove: The environment secretary has not ruled out running. “I’ll make my views clear about what should happen in that contest clear later,” he told the BBC when asked earlier this week. The Brexiteer, who helped run the official Leave campaign alongside Johnson, sent shockwaves through Westminster in 2016 when he decided to run against Boris for the job.
Since being brought back into May’s cabinet, Gove has made a name for himself by rolling out a series of green policies designed to appeal to a broad section of society.
Matt Hancock: According to the health secretary, “lots of people” are urging him to stand for leader. The former George Osborne ally survived May’s purge of the Cameroons and has seen his star rise. The 40-year-old told the BBC’s Today programme last week the party needed a leader “not just for now” but also “for the future”.
Liz Truss: It is now impossible to move in Westminster without seeing Truss. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been pushing her credentials as the free-market candidate in touch with the youth of today. The Remainer-turned-Brexiteer has been giving speeches about why young voters are not necessarily Corbynistas for a long time and has advocated building a million homes on the green belt. The UK, she has said, is “infected” with anti-wealth sentiment.
Esther McVey: The Brexiteer former work and pensions secretary has more explicitly favoured a no-deal exit than some others as she prepares a nationwide tour of her Blue Collar Conservatism group. At the group’s launch event in parliament McVey also sketched out a domestic agenda that included a pledge to slash £7bn from the foreign aid budget to fund a spending spree on schools and police. She told TalkRadio at the start of may she now believes she has “enough support” to enter the race.
Rory Stewart: A former British diplomat who served as deputy governor of a region of Iraq following the 2003 invasion, the new international development secretary has been the most open about his ambition.
Stewart toured the TV studios defending May’s Brexit doomed deal. He is seen as an outsider for the leadership but said as a Remainer who accepts Brexit must happen he could “bring this country together”.
Andrea Leadsom: Her absence at PMQs on Wednesday was one of the first signs something was up. And her resignation as Commons leader on Wednesday evening could help her in the race as she can claim it shows she is a true Brexiteer. Leadsom ran for leader in 2016 but ultimately dropped out leading to May’s coronation.
Penny Mordaunt: The Royal Navy reservist became the first female defence secretary after Gavin Williamson was fired. Mordaunt let slip in April that she often said things that “drive my campaign team mad”. And last year, as May faced a coup, she also totally coincidentally followed a lot of local Tory associations on Twitter. A committed Brexiteer, Mordaunt famously was accused of “misleading” voters by David Cameron when she said the UK could not veto Turkey joining the EU. She is also a strong advocate of LGBT rights who has made a point of forcing links with the liberal Tory MPs. She famously said “cock” multiple times in the Commons after losing a bet with her military colleagues.
(Infographic supplied by Statista)