Race to succeed Theresa May heats up

Boris Johnson is the clear favorite with bookmakers.

The contest to replace Theresa May as British prime minister hotted up on Saturday with seven candidates now throwing their hat into the ring, news wires reported.

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 EU and lead to confrontation with the bloc or a possible parliamentary election.

British health minister Matt Hancock, ex-Brexit minister Dominic Raab and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom on Saturday joined an increasingly crowded field to replace 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 with newspapers reporting that environment minister Michael Gove was expected to announce his candidacy on Sunday.

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.

All those standing say they could build a consensus or amend May’s deal, although the EU has said it would not renegotiate the treaty.“We have to propose a deal that will get through this parliament,” Hancock told BBC radio. Raab, a leading figure among pro-Brexit Conservatives, said he did not want to exit without a deal, but would do so if the EU refused to budge, a stance echoed by Leadsom, who quit the government on Wednesday over May’s deal.

Boris Johnson is the clear favorite with bookmakers and he has said Britain should be prepared to exit the bloc without any deal if no acceptable agreement could be reached. The Conservative party’s divisions over the EU has led to the demise of its last four prime ministers - May, Cameron, John Major and Margaret Thatcher - and there is little indication these schisms will be healed soon.

With no majority in parliament, the Conservatives only govern with the support of the small Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, a factor that has constantly weakened May’s hand.

The opposition Labour Party, which called for an immediate election after May’s announcement, said it would seek a vote of no confidence in the government if it looked like it might pass, while it has also not ruled out backing a second referendum.

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