Stockholm (Ekonamik) – The leadership contest in the Conservative Party has been triggered following Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that she would resign on June 7, and a new Tory leader is expected to be named by Parliament’s summer recess. Among Brexiteers, Former foreign minister Boris Johnson is the favourite among the Tory rank and file, but former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Secretary for the Environment Michael Gove, and former Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom are also in contention. They are joined in the race by moderates Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, and Secretary of Health Matthew Hancock, with others expected to join the fray.
Quite why there is such clamour for the post under the circumstances remains something of a mystery in light of the fate that befell Mrs May, who will not now have the opportunity to try to pass her Withdrawal Bill again. The parliamentary arithmetic that bedevilled Mrs May remains the same, and by the time a new Tory leader is installed and party conferences are held in September, precious little time remains until the EU’s October 31 Brexit deadline.
In addition, the Conservatives failed to win outright in a single region in the UK in the European Parliament elections, ceding ground to Nigel Farage’s Brexit party and other Remain-leaning parties. This means the next leader will have considerable difficulty uniting a desperately split party, not to mention presenting a viable Brexit plan that could be accepted in parliament within a very short time frame. Passing a deal through the House of Commons will mean appealing to both the Hard Brexiteer and moderate factions of the party, as well as bringing the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) back on board and engaging with opposition parties.
AXA Investment Managers’ Macro Insights for the week of May 27 similarly suggests that “[a] new Tory leader will struggle to re-unite the Conservative part, and… there will be significant risks of renewed tensions and a vote of no confidence. Our central forecast,” AXA writes, “is for a further extension of Article 50 beyond the October deadline. We also see rising chances of a General Election.”
Whether or not the European Union would once again grant such an extension, however, is very much up in the air. France’s president Emmanuel Macron, who opposed the initial extension after the UK failed to pass the Withdrawal Agreement in March and who forced the October 31 compromise despite other EU leaders’ willingness to extend for up to a year, is certain to oppose another extension. The EU’s patience with Brexit will be wearing thin ahead of a new Commission and Council to be seated in November, and a General Election in the UK might further complicate the picture: the Tories are polling behind the Brexit party and Labour, and the latter proved almost as unpopular as the Tories in the EP election. The vote would be likely to splinter further across multiple parties, making a deal even harder to reach.
Meanwhile, Mrs May will welcome U.S. President Donald Trump to the UK next week, a prospect hardly likely to reconcile the country.
Video: UK Prime Minister Theresa May Resigns, ABC News (YouTube)