British Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation as the Conservative Party leader on Friday morning officially started the high-stakes race to replace her, with multiple candidates expected to launch their bids.
May’s departure, formally on June 7, marks the end of her months-long struggle to keep her job despite seething anger from her own Conservative Party over her handling of Brexit.
“I believe it was right to persevere even when the odds against success seemed high. But it is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort,” she said outside 10 Downing Street.
Under the party rules, a candidate for the next leader of the party, and thus the country, must be formally proposed and seconded by Conservative members of parliament.
A vote is then held between the MPs with the candidate who gets the least votes eliminated from the round. The vote carries on until two candidates remain. All party members then get a chance to select out of the two remaining candidates.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has long angled for the top job, has emerged as the bookmakers’ favorite choice to replace May.
Johnson enjoys support from the pro-Brexit wing of the party thanks to him being the face of the 2016 campaign to leave the European Union. His Brexit bona fides were further confirmed last year when he resigned from his position in protest over May’s handling of Brexit negotiations.
The grassroots party membership also sees Johnson as the top viable candidate to be the party’s leader. According to a YouGov poll, 77 percent of Tory members say he was likable, with 70 percent also saying he could win a general election.
Yet Boris is likely to face scrutiny over his personality and crude political pragmatism, which critics say led him to come out in support of Brexit to further his political ambitions and is using the chaos as a vehicle to get into power.
The BBC reported last week that Johnson confirmed his intention to run for the leader of the party, saying “Of course I’m going to go for it” during a British Insurance Brokers’ Association event.
Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who served just five months in the role, is another likely contender to throw his hat in the race for the party’s leadership.
He caused embarrassment to May after he resigned from her government last year in protest at her draft Brexit agreement. Raab insisted that the agreement doesn’t match the promises made by the party during the 2017 general election.
According to the bookies, he’s either second or third most likely candidate to replace May. He told the media that he hasn’t ruled out running for the position.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who unsuccessfully ran for the party’s leadership after the Brexit vote, has considerable support among the bookies and Tory members and could be viewed as a middle-ground candidate.
Gove, a policy wonk known for delivering results in government, would be an option that could appeal to both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain wings of the party.
He was at the forefront of the pro-Brexit campaign yet supported May’s Brexit deal.
If he decides to run for the leadership position, hard Brexiteers are likely to criticize him over his support for May’s deal, though he’s still viewed as a steady pro-Brexit voice among Tory party activists.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt took his current role after Johnson’s resignation. He has since made inroads as a supporter of Brexit, even though just like May, he backed the campaign to remain in the European Union in 2016.
Hunt recently compared the E.U. to the Soviet Union, prompting a backlash from European leaders, though the comments were likely met positively among pro-Brexit supporters.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, similarly to Hunt, has become a pro-Brexit voice despite supporting the Remain side during the referendum.
Javid may have an edge against candidates such Johnson because he didn’t come from an elite background. The son of immigrants whose father worked as a bus driver and shopkeeper, if selected, could help the party to shed the perception that it only selects politicians from a privileged background.
He has been enjoying recent political support following his strong stance against letting a British ISIS Jihadi bride come back to the country, even stripping her of her British citizenship.
Former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom has increased her stock after her shock resignation earlier this week.
She once ran for the party’s leadership following the Brexit vote, attracting significant grassroots support over her strong pro-Brexit stance, though she dropped out the last minute before the leadership vote over her controversial comments.
Unlike other Brexiteers, Leadsom is still less well known and hasn’t held a top cabinet position, likely to cause attacks over her ability to govern whole country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.