Crowd of hopefuls to replace May growing

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 27 May 2019

The race to become Britain's next prime minister heated up yesterday as Environment Secretary Michael Gove joined a crowded field of hopefuls with competing visions of how to pull their country out of the European Union.

Gove's bid for the leadership in the aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum cut into the chances of one-time ally Boris Johnson, who is also running and is the current favorite.

Whoever is selected in the contest - set to finish in July - must deal with European leaders who say they are done with Brexit talks.

May is bowing out with her legacy in tatters and the country split on abandoning the European project.

Markets view the risk of Britain crashing out of the bloc when the twice-delayed departure date arrives on October 31 as too high. The main concern is that some current front-runners to head May's Conservative Party say they will get Brexit done at any cost.

"We will leave the EU on October 31 deal or no deal," former foreign minister Johnson said on Friday.

Johnson's main challenges will come from former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, viewed as an even more committed euroskeptic, as well as Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Gove.

Eight MPs have so far declared, with Raab and Hunt announcing their candidacies in Sunday papers.

Raab wrote in The Mail on Sunday that "I would prefer that we leave with a deal," but "we will not be taken seriously in Brussels unless we are clear that we will walk away on World Trade Organization terms if the EU doesn't budge."

Hunt campaigned against Brexit in 2016 but has reversed his stance.

Gove was to announce his intention to run at a literary festival later, positioning himself as a party unity candidate.

Former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, whose resignation pushed May to quit, also confirmed she will run.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock entered the race with a promise to take a more moderate approach, and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart also claims to be a consensus-seeker.

Parliamentary party members will begin whittling down the field to a final two from June 10. The finalists will then be put to a postal ballot of around 100,000 party members in July.

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