A host of candidates to replace Theresa May as British prime minister launched their campaigns on Monday promising to solve the turmoil of Brexit and taking shots at frontrunner Boris Johnson.
May stepped down as leader of the ruling Conservative Party on Friday, having failed three times to win parliament’s support for a European Union divorce deal that was supposed to steer the country smoothly out of the bloc and deal with Britain’s biggest political crisis in a generation.
Nominations to replace her had to be submitted on Monday, and the party’s 1922 Committee, which is running the contest, said 10 candidates had achieved the required support of at least eight of the Conservatives’ 300-plus elected lawmakers.
An 11th, Sam Gyimah, withdrew shortly before the announcement saying he had not been able to build sufficient support. He was the only one to support holding a second Brexit referendum.
Conservative lawmakers will hold their first round of voting on Thursday to begin narrowing the field.
The public campaign launches on Monday all set out domestic agendas, but it was Brexit that dominated, with overt and thinly-veiled digs at former foreign minister Johnson.
“If I get through, which I am sure I will actually, to the final two against Mr Johnson, this is what I will say to him: ‘Mr Johnson, whatever you do, don’t pull out’,” said environment minister Michael Gove, who scuppered Johnson’s 2016 leadership bid by pulling his support at the last moment to run himself.
“I know you have before, and I know you may not believe in your heart that you can do it, but the Conservative Party membership deserve a choice’.”
Nearly all the hopefuls promised they could solve the Brexit conundrum – which eluded May in three years of EU talks – in just three months, between the new leader being chosen at the end of July and the current exit date of Oct. 31.
“From my conversations with European leaders, it is clear to me there is a deal to be done; they want us to come up with proposals,” current foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said.