No sooner had Theresa May announced her official resignation (long awaited by many) than the battle for her successor began. At the weekend, the candidates will inevitably start jockeying for position, with the contentious Boris Johnson clearly leading the field as one of the most promising candidates. But the list of possible successors for May is long and the outcome of the election process uncertain.
According to some estimates there were at times more than 30 potential candidates for the post of Conservative Party leader. At one end of the spectrum are the hardliners like Boris Johnson and Steve Baker as well as the more moderate but equally Brexit-attuned Ester McVey, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove. At the other end of the spectrum is Amber Rudd, the only supporter from the Remain camp, standing all on her own. The probability is therefore extremely high that May’s successor will either follow a course similar to that of the departing Prime Minister, or be more clearly aligned with the hard Brexit camp. The latter would be particularly likely if Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party did indeed perform as strongly in the European elections as currently predicted. As was already the case in 2015, the scepter of Farage’s populism that is perceived by Conservatives as a major threat, could nudge the party to the far right. The choice of a Brexit hardliner would undoubtedly generate an extremely anxious response from the financial market as it would put a no-deal Brexit, which had been more or less completely priced out in the last few months, back on the agenda. But no matter who takes over as Theresa May’s successor, he or she will inevitably face the same problems that have now led to May’s downfall. Parliament will still fail to reach an agreement even with a new Prime Minister, and the House of Commons will continue vehemently attempting to fight off a no-deal Brexit. The last six months have impressively shown that MPs, with the avid support of Speaker John Bercow, have no problems in being extremely creative when it comes to averting an unregulated withdrawal from the EU. Thus, the key point to note is that a Brexit hardliner at the head of the Conservative Party would certainly increase the likelihood of a no deal Brexit in the end – but there is still no likelihood of this actually happening.
The election for a new party leader begins with the nomination of the candidates. Each MP is entitled to try his or her luck, but requires the support of two other Tory MPs. Once the list is complete, the first phase of the voting process begins, with only Conservative MPs allowed to vote. Based on a series of votes being cast on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the parliamentary group removes the weakest candidate from the list. This process is repeated until only two candidates remain. It often happens that some candidatures are voluntarily withdrawn, particularly when MPs ascertain that they have no realistic chance of winning. Once the panel has been reduced to two names, the voting process enters the second phase in which the party base is called to vote. It is impossible to predict with any certainty how long the election process will take this time, as we do not yet know how many candidates will make it to the list. What is certain, however, is that the 1922 Committee intends to complete the election of the new party leader (and by extension the Prime Minister) by 19 July 2019 at the latest, i.e. shortly before parliament takes its summer break.