Johnson heads field to succeed May as UK’s PM, as Corbyn demands elections
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Johnson heads field to succeed May as UK’s PM, as Corbyn demands elections

After Brexit chaos forces the departure of British prime minister, a look at the candidates to take her place, and the process by which they’ll face off

In this file photo from July 13, 2016, Boris Johnson waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street in London. (Oli Scarff/AFP)
In this file photo from July 13, 2016, Boris Johnson waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street in London. (Oli Scarff/AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that she will leave 10 Downing Street has set off a fierce competition to succeed her as Conservative Party leader — and as the next prime minister.

Bowing to the inevitable, May announced Friday that she would step down in two weeks, admitting defeat in her attempt to take Britain out of the European Union and sparking a contest to replace her as party leader and prime minister.

May said she would quit as head of the governing party on June 7 but stay as caretaker prime minister until the new leader is chosen, a process the Conservatives aim to complete by late July.

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election, and will take up the task of trying to secure Britain’s exit from the EU.

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves after voting in the European Parliament elections on May 23, 2019, in London. (Isabel Infantes/AFP)

However, the chaos in the party means the possibility of general elections is not far away. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Friday that whoever replaces May must call an election. “She has now accepted what the country has known for months: she cannot govern, and nor can her divided and disintegrating party,” Corbyn said in a statement.

“The Conservative Party has utterly failed the country over Brexit and is unable to improve people’s lives or deal with their most pressing needs. Parliament is deadlocked and the Conservatives offer no solutions to the other major challenges facing our country.”

Left-wing leader Corbyn is a major critic of Israel, who has called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends, and has been accused of anti-Semitism and of failing to tackle anti-Semitism in his party. May, by contrast, was praised by the UK Jewish community on Friday as a “friend” and was highly supportive of Israel. Boris Johnson, the immediate favorite to succeed her, is broadly supportive of Israel.

What happens next

All Conservative lawmakers can run to lead the party. May says the contest will start the week after she resigns; party officials will set a date for the closing of nominations.

After candidates come forward, the 313 Conservative lawmakers vote in a series of elimination rounds. The candidate with the lowest number of votes drops out and voting continues until there are two contenders left.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May announces her resignation outside 10 Downing Street in London on May 24, 2019. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

The final two candidates are put to a vote of the full party membership across the country, about 120,000 people.

In the last leadership contest in 2016, members never got to vote because all the candidates dropped out but one: May.

May remains prime minister and party leader until a replacement is chosen. The winner of the vote becomes Conservative leader and prime minister.

These are some of the most prominent names on a list of contenders to succeed May as Conservative chief and prime minister that is expected to grow in the coming days.

Boris Johnson

The former foreign secretary has made no secret of his desire to take the top job when May departs.

The outspoken Johnson, with his unkempt hair and flamboyant ways, has long been one of Britain’s best known politicians, and he is believed to enjoy strong support from rank-and-file Conservative Party members.

He was a key leader of the campaign that in 2016 convinced a majority of British voters to cast ballots in favor of leaving the European Union.

Johnson, 54, planned a leadership run after that vote but eventually decided not to compete. He has already said he will seek the job this time around.

He resigned as foreign secretary in July because of unhappiness with May’s Brexit plans.

Britain’s then-Foreign Minister Boris Johnson attends the funeral of former Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery on September 30, 2016. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Dominic Raab

The former Brexit secretary is banking on his tireless advocacy for leaving the EU to help propel him to 10 Downing Street.

He served at the helm of the Brexit department for a relatively short time, taking the position in July and resigning in November over a policy rift with May.

Raab said he left the Cabinet because he could not “in good conscience” support the deal May had reached with EU leaders about the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.

The 45-year-old has been highly critical of May’s approach. He is a longtime admirer of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who enjoyed a successful career as Conservative Party leader.

The buttoned-down, serious Raab is seen by many as a youthful rising star in the conservative movement.

Dominic Raab leaves 10 Downing Street in London after his appointment as UK secretary of state for exiting the European Union to the job, July 9, 2018 (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Jeremy Hunt

Hunt stepped into the role of foreign secretary when Johnson resigned. He has tried to raise his profile by making provocative statements to establish his credentials as a staunch Brexiteer, despite having backed the “Remain” side during the 2016 referendum.

He made headlines at a recent party conference by comparing the EU to the Soviet Union, earning rebukes from some European leaders but perhaps winning supporters among anti-EU members of his party.

Hunt, 52, has held a variety of government posts, including a tenure as health secretary, and played an important role in the widely praised production of the 2012 Olympics in London.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt delivers a statement on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly on May 20, 2019, at the United Nations offices in Geneva. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Sajid Javid

Unlike many of his competitors, the home secretary does not come from an elite background. He is the son of Pakistani immigrants and his father worked as a bus driver and shopkeeper.

He enjoyed a successful career in banking with Chase Manhattan and Deutsche Bank before entering politics and winning election to Parliament in 2010.

During the Brexit referendum of 2016, Javid was on the “Remain” side but was noticeably lukewarm in his support for keeping Britain in the EU. He has since embraced Brexit.

He has raised his profile in recent months by taking aggressive action to curtail the arrival of small boats carrying migrants across the English Channel.

Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid gives a speech on the third day of the Conservative Party Conference 2018 in Birmingham, England, on October 2, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ben Stansall)

Andrea Leadsom

Leadsom resigned her key post as leader of the House of Commons this week to put space between herself and May — and to clear the way for what would be a second run for the party leadership.

The 56-year-old was in what became a two-woman race with May in 2016 when the party leader spot was last open.

Leadsom dropped out before the matter came to a vote, in part because of a backlash against comments in which she suggested she had more of a stake in the future than May because she had raised children. She apologized, but the controversy dampened her chances and helped bring May to Downing Street.

Leadsom is an outspoken supporter of Brexit who is seen by many to have been an effective House of Commons leader during an extremely contentious time.

Britain’s former Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom leaves her home in London on May 23, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/AFP)

Michael Gove

Environment Secretary Michael Gove tried and failed to become party leader after he played an important role in the campaign to take Britain out of the European Union.

Britain’s Environment Secretary Michael Gove arrives at his office in Westminster, London, November 16, 2018. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

He had been expected to back Boris Johnson’s leadership bid but decided instead to compete for the top job himself.

He eventually joined May’s government, adding the Environment role to a resume that already included the top positions in Education and Justice.

The 51-year-old Gove has been loyal to the prime minister, backing her Brexit policies even as former colleagues denounced May’s withdrawal deal.

As education secretary, Gove was heavily criticized by teachers for his overhaul of the school curriculum, and raised eyebrows by calling for the removal of some classic American novels from the curriculum in favor of an increased focus on British writers.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this story.

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