Tories impose stricter criteria for party leader role as contest looms

Backbenchers call for next PM to drop withdrawal accord and make clean Brexit

The Conservative Party has sought to limit the field of leadership candidates and shorten the race by setting a higher bar for entry and for surviving each round of voting. Candidates will need a proposer and seconder and six other MPs supporting their candidacy to enter the contest next week.

Under party rules, MPs vote in eliminatory secret ballots to select two candidates to go before the entire Conservative membership. Theresa May will resign as Conservative leader on Friday and nominations close next Monday, with the first ballot scheduled for Thursday, June 13th.

After the first ballot, any candidate receiving 16 or fewer will be eliminated. After the second ballot, any candidate receiving 32 votes or fewer will be eliminated. The party hopes MPs will select the two candidates by June 20th, with hustings to be held over the following month and a new leader elected by the end of July.

Two candidates, Brexit minister James Cleverly and housing minister Kit Malthouse, withdrew from the contest on Tuesday leaving 11 remaining. Members of the moderate One Nation group of Conservative MPs were on Tuesday night questioning a number of candidates, including frontrunner Boris Johnson, at a behind-closed-doors meeting in Westminster.


Political declaration

Fifteen Brexiteer backbenchers including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker and Iain Duncan Smith called on Tuesday night for the next prime minister to commit to a "clean, managed Brexit" by abandoning the withdrawal agreement with Brussels and taking Britain out of the EU on October 31st.

“The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration [on the UK’s future relationship with the EU] have failed absolutely. They are not coming back. The next leader of the Conservative Party needs to know that and act on that basis,” they said.

“Our new prime minister will have three months to get this right or that’s it – for this government, this parliament and this party. Getting it right needs to involve getting the DUP back on board, and a new confidence-and-supply deal done too.”

Former Conservative MP Anna Soubry on Tuesday became the leader of Change UK after more than half of its MPs left the party formed earlier this year by disenchanted Labour and Conservative parliamentarians. The party fared poorly in last month's European Parliament elections which saw the Liberal Democrats come in second place.

Change UK

Six Change UK MPs, including Chuka Umunna and Heidi Allen, have left the party to sit as independents after a disagreement over co-operation with the Liberal Democrats. But Ms Soubry, along with former Labour MPs Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffee and Joan Ryan, said they were determined to keep the party going.

“You may have heard the news that some of our MPs group have decided to leave Change UK, which is saddening and disappointing just at the moment we need to roll up our sleeves, challenge the Brexit emergency and champion sensible evidence-based policymaking in the face of the main parties drifting to the ideological fringes. We regret their decision, but it is vital we continue to lead and look forward to future elections – and get started on building our policies and party across the country,” they said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times