Voting for new UK PM ends amid Brexit foreboding, with Johnson likely victor
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Voting for new UK PM ends amid Brexit foreboding, with Johnson likely victor

Winner of Conservative Party primary, widely predicted to be pro-Brexit populist Boris Johnson, will face opposition in parliament and his own party to leaving EU without a deal

Conservative Party leadership contender Boris Johnson, center right, leaves his office in the Westminster area of London, July 22, 2019. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
Conservative Party leadership contender Boris Johnson, center right, leaves his office in the Westminster area of London, July 22, 2019. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Voting closed Monday in the two-man contest to become Britain’s next prime minister, as critics of likely winner Boris Johnson condemned his vow to take the UK out of the European Union with or without a divorce deal.

Members of the governing Conservative Party had until 5 p.m. (1600 GMT) to return postal ballots in the race between Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to lead the party and country.

The winner will be announced Tuesday, and will take over from Prime Minister Theresa May the following day.

Johnson, a populist former mayor of London, is the strong favorite.

Several members of May’s government have said they will resign before they can be fired by Johnson over their opposition to his threat to go through with a no-deal Brexit if he can’t secure a renegotiated settlement with the EU.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives for a meeting at 10 Downing Street in London, July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Most economists say quitting the 28-nation bloc without a deal would cause Britain economic turmoil. The UK’s official economic watchdog has forecast that a no-deal Brexit would trigger a recession, with the pound plummeting in value, borrowing soaring by 30 billion pounds ($37 billion), and the economy shrinking two percent in a year.

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown said Monday that a no-deal Brexit would be “an act of economic self-harm that runs wholly counter to the national interest.”

EU leaders insist that they will not reopen the 585-page withdrawal agreement they made with May’s government, which has been repeatedly rejected by Britain’s Parliament.

Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan quit Monday, lamenting in his resignation letter that “we have had to spend every day working beneath the dark cloud of Brexit.”

Duncan expressed deep reservations about Johnson to the BBC.

Conservative party leadership candidate Boris Johnson answers questions during a Conservative leadership hustings at ExCel Centre in London, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

“I have very grave concerns that he flies by the seat of his pants, and it’s all a bit haphazard and ramshackle,” he said.

Other government ministers, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, are set to resign Wednesday.

The new prime minister will preside over a House of Commons in which most members oppose leaving the EU without a deal, and where the Conservative Party lacks an overall majority.

Opposition parties are preparing for an early election, which could be triggered if the government loses a no-confidence vote in the coming months.

The centrist Liberal Democrats, who have seen a surge in support thanks to their strongly anti-Brexit stance, also chose a new leader Monday.

Jo Swinson speaks in London on July 22, 2019, after being elected leader of the Liberal Democrats. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Jo Swinson, a 39-year-old lawmaker from Scotland, defeated former energy minister Ed Davey in a poll of party members.

Traditionally Britain’s third party, the Liberal Democrats came in ahead of the Conservatives in European Union elections in May, as voters backed their call to remain in the EU.

Swinson branded Britain’s departure from the EU a “catastrophe” and said having Johnson in the prime minister’s office heightened the danger.

“Tomorrow, Boris Johnson is likely to take the keys to Number 10 and set us on a path to a damaging no-deal Brexit,” she told party members. “I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit.”

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