The contenders to replace UK Prime Minister Theresa May

Posted at 9:15 AM, Dec 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 11:55:09-05

British Prime Minister Theresa May is relying on her fellow Conservative Members of Parliament to back her during Wednesday’s no-confidence vote, but her battle to retain the leadership of the Tory party will be weighed against a host of potential suitors.

The beleaguered leader has vowed to contest the vote “with everything she’s got,” telling reporters in Downing Street that a change of leadership “would put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it.”

If she survives the vote — triggered over her handling of Brexit — she will be immune from another leadership challenge for a year. If May loses, she will be cast out as Conservative leader and will likely outline when she will stand down as Prime Minister.

Conservative MPs will then choose two new candidates for all registered party members to vote on. These are some of the frontrunners:

Boris Johnson

Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London, was the face of the campaign to leave the European Union and is one of the most polarizing figures in British politics.

The 54-year-old called the Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit deal “a legal lobster pot in which we will get trapped.” His biggest bone of contention with May’s Brexit plan? The proposed agreement over the Irish backstop, which could indefinitely keep Northern Ireland and, by extension, the rest of the UK tied to the EU customs union.

Johnson has said he would back a cleaner break from the EU, and negotiate a free-trade deal based on the one the bloc has with Canada.

He declined to rule out standing against May as recently as Sunday. British bookmakers have Johnson as a frontrunner, but it’s unclear whether his fellow MPs — who are generally less eurosceptic than their constituents — would nominate him for the leadership post if May loses on Wednesday evening.

If nominated however, the ever-visible Johnson would be one of the favorites, as he has the support of Conservative grassroots voters.

Sajid Javid

Javid, who is the son of a Pakistani bus driver, has risen through the ranks of the Conservative Party becoming an MP in 2010, David Cameron’s Business Secretary in 2015, and Home Secretary in 2018. He voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, but has had a change of heart — becoming a strong pro-Brexit voice on May’s leadership team.

The 49-year-old has told fellow Cabinet ministers he would stand for party leader if May loses a no-confidence vote, according to reports in British media. Yet ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Javid reiterated his “full support” for May.

Along with Johnson, Javid’s considered a frontrunner to replace May as party leader. If elected, he would become the first non-white prime minister in British history.

David Davis

A hardcore Brexiter, Davis, 69, resigned from his post as Brexit Secretary in protest against May’s original Brexit proposal, the Chequers plan — which the Prime Minister presented to her Cabinet in July.

Davis has also publicly slammed the deal May intended to present to the House of Commons this week. If May loses the vote, Davis is seen by Brexiters as a potential “caretaker” who could either renegotiate a more palatable deal for the pro-Brexit wing of the party or guide the country through a hard Brexit scenario — where no deal with the EU is reached.

Michael Gove

Gove, 51, is a leading Brexiter with a history of introducing drama to Conservative Party leadership contests. He ran Boris Johnson’s campaign for party leader in 2016, but withdrew his support for Johnson and declared his own candidacy.

He lost that race to May and was appointed Environment Secretary in 2017. On Wednesday, he pledged his support for the Prime Minister, saying “no one is better placed to ensure we deliver on the British people’s decision to leave the EU.”

Amber Rudd

One of the leading backers of the Remain side during the 2016 election, Rudd favors maintaining a close relationship to the EU.

She has advocated for Norway-style relationship with the EU, where the UK remains a member of the customs union and a part of the bloc’s single market. It’s a stance that will make it hard for Rudd to win over the Tory party’s euroskeptic grassroots.

Last April, Rudd resigned as home secretary after it was discovered her department wrongly deported immigrants from Caribbean countries who had been in the UK for decades, in what became known as the “Windrush scandal.”

Despite this, Rudd’s support for May never wavered and she was last month given another Cabinet position, of Work and Pensions Secretary, following the resignation of Esther McVey.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

With an instantly recognizable throwback look, Rees-Mogg has gone from relative unknown to the face of the Brexiter wing of the party. A staunch Conservative, he’s the head of the European Research Group (ERG), which for decades has been singularly focused on withdrawing the UK from the EU.

This morning, the backbench Conservative MP called on May to resign, saying the country “needs a new leader.”

Despite being a powerhouse among the party’s grassroots, Rees-Mogg’s election would likely split the Conservatives, dividing the coalition between moderates and hardliners that May has, up until now, been able to hold together.

Dominic Raab

Raab replaced David Davis as Brexit Secretary for a full four months before resigning his post in protest.

He stepped down last month after May brought a draft deal back from Brussels. The move burnished his credentials among Brexiters, despite a few weeks earlier claiming that he “hadn’t quite understood” how much the UK relied on the Dover-Calais crossing for trade.

At 44, he’s the youngest person on the list.