Gove, Leadsom, Hancock jump into crowded race for UK May’s job

British Prime Minister Theresa May says she’ll quit as UK Conservative leader on June 7, sparking contest for Britain’s next prime minister. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The rush is on to replace UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who resigned after failing to deliver on Brexit. Things got more crowded on Saturday with cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Matt Hancock and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom signaling their intent to run.

Gove, the environment secretary and a staunch Brexiteer, is telling colleagues he’s the best person to complete the exit from the European Union, according to two newspapers.

Leadsom, who quit her post three days ago, will also run, a spokeswoman said. Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab declared his intent in a commentary in the Mail on Sunday, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced his candidacy on Sky News.

“We must deliver Brexit, and I will deliver Brexit,” Hancock said on Sky. “We need to move this country forward.”

The latest candidates join former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, his successor Jeremy Hunt, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, and former Works and Pension Secretary Esther McVey as potential successors to May, according to the BBC.

Front-Runner Johnson
Johnson, a former mayor of London, has emerged as a front-runner in the contest for the leadership post triggered when May announced her plans on Friday. The outcome will shape the direction of Brexit with all options, including leaving without a deal, back on the table. May will stand down as Conservative Party leader June 7.

Gove has told Conservatives in Parliament that he is the best candidate to take on opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and take over the government to deliver on Brexit, according to the Sunday Telegraph. He notes his role in running three government departments: education, justice, and environment.

Gove, 51, is a long-time Brexiteer, unlike other, more recent converts, which will satisfy the Tory grassroots. His public loyalty to May, and a House of Commons speech ridiculing Corbyn, have put him in poll position as a unity candidate among Conservatives, though he’s a divisive figure nationwide. He’s expected to announce his candidates Sunday night.

Backstabbing traitor

The contest could reignite a fight between Johnson and Gove, who was characterized as a backstabbing traitor in newspaper cartoons after he withdrew his support from Johnson, a long-time friend, to seek the Tory leadership himself in 2016.

Leadsom, 56, who worked in financial services before entering Parliament, backed May’s blueprint for leaving the EU and had been supportive until the premier recently offered Parliament a chance to vote for a second referendum. Her resignation over May’s Brexit strategy will do her chances no harm among the Tory grassroots.

Raab, 45, writing in the Mail on Sunday, declared he would “demonstrate unflinching resolve” to leave the EU. “The country now feels stuck in the mud, humiliated by Brussels and incapable of finding a way forward,” he said. “It’s time for a new direction.”

Art of the deal

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Hunt, 52, said his own background as an entrepreneur makes him best qualified to negotiate a new deal with Brussels. He vowed to slash the corporation tax to 12.5%, equal to the lowest rate in Europe and declared: “Doing deals is my bread and butter,” according to the Times. Hunt campaigned to stay in the EU before announcing he’d changed his mind.

Johnson, 54, who quit the Cabinet in protest at May’s Brexit compromise plan last year, has been railing against her “surrender” ever since in well-remunerated columns for the Daily Telegraph. His role in the Brexit referendum of 2016 was decisive and he’s popular among grassroots activists. He’s also built up the biggest war chest.

Chancellor to the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd, the works and pensions secretary, have signaled they could back Johnson, the Telegraph reported, citing interviews and people familiar with the matter. Stewart told the BBC he wouldn’t serve under Johnson because of his support for a no-deal exit.

Britain has until Oct. 31 to agree to a deal with the 27 other member states. Otherwise, the UK could leave with no agreement to cushion the economic blow.