LONDON: Britain´s Conservative party starts voting on Tuesday to replace outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron following his resignation in the wake of Britain´s shock decision to leave the European Union.
Interior minister Theresa May is the clear frontrunner, pitching herself as a sober operator capable of unifying a party fractured by last month´s referendum and leading Britain out of the EU.
May has said she does not plan to invoke Article 50, the formal procedure for leaving the EU, until the end of the year at the earliest despite pressure from European leaders for a quicker divorce.
May campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU but now says that “Brexit means Brexit” and has ruled out an early election or a second referendum — both seen as possible ways of rowing back from the result.
One of her leading rivals, Andrea Leadsom, who campaigned for Britain to leave, has said she wants exit negotiations to be “as short as possible” in order to avoid “prolonged uncertainty”.
The ruling party´s 330 MPs will vote for one of five candidates, with the least popular being eliminated ahead of similar votes to reduce the shortlist to two.
The party´s 150,000 members will then decide the winner, with the result to be declared on September 9.
The race took a dramatic turn last week when justice minister Michael Gove announced his candidacy, delivering a stinging attack on pro-Leave ally Boris Johnson moments before he was expected to announce his own bid.
A wounded Johnson pulled out of the contest but the affair appears to have turned some MPs against Gove.
Leadsom received Johnson´s backing on Tuesday.
“Andrea Leadsom offers the zap, the drive, and the determination essential for the next leader of this country,” said the former London mayor.
“She is level headed, kind, trustworthy and approachable. She possesses the qualities needed to bring together leavers and remainers in the weeks and months ahead.”
The vote has shaken Britain´s political order, plunging both the Conservatives and opposition Labour party into chaos.
Leading Brexit campaigner, MEP Nigel Farage, resigned as head of the UK Independence Party on Monday, saying his “political ambition has been achieved”.
The 52-year-old vowed to watch Britain´s renegotiation process with the EU “like a hawk” as he continues to serve as an MEP.
“The Brexit heroes of yesterday are now the sad heroes of today,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament.
“Those who have contributed to the situation in the UK have resigned, Johnson, Farage and others. They are as it were retro-nationalists, they are not patriots,” he said. “Patriots don´t resign when things get difficult, they stay.”
Britain´s negotiations to leave the EU will form a key plank of each leadership bid, and May told MPs on Monday that the status of EU residents already in Britain was up for debate.
Gove and Leadsom have said EU citizens should be given guarantees they can stay.
Courtesy : TheNews