26 May 2019

Tory leadership: Dominic Raab and Andrea Leadsom enter race

1:34 pm on 26 May 2019

The contest to replace Theresa May as British prime minister is hotting up with seven candidates now vying for a job whose central task will be to find a way to take a divided Britain out of the EU.

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Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab have joined the field seeking to become Conservative party leader and UK prime minister. Photo: AP

Mrs May announced on Friday she was quitting over her failure to deliver Brexit, raising the prospect of a new leader who could seek a more divisive split with the European Union which could lead to confrontation with the bloc or a possible parliamentary election.

British health minister Matt Hancock, former Brexit minister Dominic Raab and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom have joined an increasingly crowded field to replace Mrs May.

Former foreign minister Boris Johnson, current foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart and former work and pensions minister Esther McVey had already announced they would stand.

About a dozen contenders in total are thought to be considering a tilt at the leadership.

The Sunday Telegraph said environment minister Michael Gove was expected to announce his candidacy later today while trade minister Liam Fox and former junior Brexit minister Steve Baker did not rule out a challenge when asked on Saturday.

Mrs May failed three times to get a divorce deal she agreed with the EU through parliament because of deep, long-term divisions in the Conservative Party over Europe. It meant the original Brexit date of 29 March has been extended until 31 October to see if any compromise could be reached.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Mr Raab said the UK needed to leave the EU on 31 October "at the latest". Mr Raab said he would "prefer" a deal but he said the country needed to "demonstrate unflinching resolve" to leave when negotiations end in October.

Ms Leadsom said she also supported a no-deal Brexit "if necessary". She told the Sunday Times to "succeed in a negotiation, you have to be prepared to walk away".

All the leadership contenders have strived to make their position on Brexit clear to their electors - the 313 Tory MPs who choose a shortlist and the 124.000 party members who will have the final say.

Mr Hancock said Mrs May's successor must be more "brutally honest" about the "trade-offs" required to get a deal through Parliament.

Mr Stewart said he would not serve under rival Mr Johnson because of his backing for a no-deal exit.

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 13, 2019 file photo, Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is another leadership contender, does not favour a no-deal Brexit. Photo: AP

Mr Hunt told the Sunday Times he had the business experience to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

By contrast, Ms McVey told a listener to LBC radio the UK "had to come out", and if it that meant a no-deal Brexit then "that's what it's got to be".

The issue is set to dominate the contest which will begin in the week of 10 June when Conservative MPs begin to whittle down the field before party members choose the winner from the final two candidates.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson is the bookies' favourite to take Theresa May's job. Photo: AFP or licensors

Surveys have suggested that the members are overwhelmingly pro-Brexit and in favour of leaving the EU without a deal.

Mr Johnson is the clear favourite with bookmakers and he has also said Britain should be prepared to exit the bloc without any deal if no acceptable agreement could be reached. "We will leave the EU on 31 October, deal or no deal," he told an economic conference in Switzerland on Friday.

The party's divisions over the EU have led to the demise of its last four prime ministers - Mrs May, David Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher - and there is little indication these schisms will be healed soon.

- Reuters / BBC

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