Tory leadership race: Candidates jostle for position after May's exit

Frontrunner Boris Johnson says he would not seek a new article 50 extension

Candidates to succeed Theresa May as British prime minister were jostling for position last night after she announced her resignation in a tearful statement outside 10 Downing Street.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said he would contest the Conservative leadership, joining his predecessor Boris Johnson and international trade secretary Rory Stewart.

Other cabinet ministers are expected to follow in the coming days, including home secretary Sajid Javid, environment secretary Michael Gove, defence secretary Penny Mordaunt and health secretary Matt Hancock.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab is also expected to join the race, and former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom is considering a second leadership bid.


Watched by her husband Philip and senior aides, Mrs May’s voice cracked as she almost broke down towards the end of her statement announcing that she would resign as Conservative leader on June 7th.


She said she had done her best to win a parliamentary majority for the withdrawal agreement, and warned her successor that compromise was needed to agree any Brexit deal.

“It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honours the result of the referendum. To succeed, he or she will have to find consensus in parliament where I have not. Such a consensus can only be reached if those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise.”

Ms May's resignation puts Brexit in a new phase that may be "very dangerous for Ireland", Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said. Mr Varadkar said her departure could lead to the election of a "Eurosceptic" prime minister.

The Taoiseach said her successor may scrap the Brexit withdrawal agreement. “We may see the election of a Eurosceptic prime minister who wants to repudiate the withdrawal agreement and go for no-deal, or we may even see a new British government that wants a closer relationship with the EU and goes for a second referendum,” said Mr Varadkar. But the Taoiseach said that whatever happens, the Irish Government will “hold its nerve”.


Mrs May will stay on as prime minister until a new Conservative leader is elected. Nominations will close on June 10th, and MPs will then vote in successive rounds to choose two candidates to go before all members of the party, with a result expected in late July.

The clear frontrunner is Mr Johnson, who told a conference in Switzerland on Friday that he would not seek a further article 50 extension beyond the end of October. "We will leave the EU on October 31st, deal or no deal."

He suggested that he would seek to negotiate changes to the Brexit deal, but would leave without an agreement if necessary.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times