In a result that will make Boris Johnson smile, moments ago UK justice secretary Michael Gove, who infamously backstabbed the former London mayor and cost him the UK prime ministerial position one week ago, received just 46 votes in a ballot of Conservative members in Parliament, which put him in last place after Home Secretary Theresa May who received 199 votes, while Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom received 84 votes, eliminating him from the leadership race.
It also means that for the first time since Margaret Thatcher, and only the second time in UK history, UK’s next prime minister will be a woman, as the final choice now is that between , who was for remaining in the EU, and Leadsom, who campaigned to leave.
The contest will now be thrown open to party membership by postal vote, the WSJ adds, a process that means some 150,000 people will choose the next resident of Downing Street at a time of historic economic and political change. The criteria could be different among the rank-and-file.
A majority of party members supported Britain’s exit from the EU, according to an opinion poll after the June 23 vote to leave, while many lawmakers backed Britain’s continued EU membership. “A survey published by pollster YouGov PLC on Tuesday showed a majority of the roughly 1,000 Conservative members canvassed supported Ms. May to be the next prime minister. In a contest between Ms. May and Ms. Leadsom, 63% would vote for Ms. May, while 31% would vote for Ms. Leadsom, the survey suggested.”
The party has said it plans to announce the new leader by Sept. 9.
As the WSJ adds, the next prime minister will navigate difficult divorce talks with the EU and lead the country as it reassess its foreign relations. Mr. Cameron has said it would be up to his successor to trigger Article 50, the mechanism that would formally begin Britain’s exit. May’s supporters say she has robust government experience and that she would represent stability at a time of great upheaval. May has served six years as home secretary, one of the most senior government roles, which covers security, policing and immigration.
Her position during the referendum could count against her as some of her pro-Brexit critics say that the best person to lead the country’s separation from the EU is someone who backed an exit. Still, as the Evening Standard reported 2 days ago, contrary to her prevailing image, Theresa May “squared up to Brussels boss Jean-Claude Juncker by demanding early talks on Britain’s exit from the European Union.” Ultimately, it is unclear what her final stance will be.
The home secretary’s stance on EU nationals living in Britain has drawn criticism, including from some in her own party. Ms. May said in a Sunday television interview that she wouldn’t unilaterally offer permanent residency rights to EU citizens in the U.K. until the status of British nationals living in the EU has been settled in negotiations over Britain’s terms of exit.
Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is supporting Ms. Leadsom’s leadership bid after dramatically bowing out of the race last week, in Parliament Wednesday said it was “very disappointing” that the rights of EU nationals in the U.K. should be called into question.
While Ms. Leadsom gained attention on the back of punchy debate lines while campaigning for the U.K.’s exit from the EU, some say she lacks sufficient government experience. After joining Parliament in 2010, she spent a year as a minister in the U.K. Treasury and has been in her current ministerial role for a little more than a year.
On Thursday, Ms. Leadsom, who spent 25 years in the banking and finance industry, sought to establish her credentials as the candidate who could steer the economy to success and reassure investors that the U.K. is a stable place for them. She said a priority would be negotiating a deal that ensures continued, tariff-free trade with the EU, something EU leaders haven’t granted unless countries agree to the bloc’s freedom of movement rules.
Amusingly, Leadsom said that forecasts of a disaster for sterling, equities and interest rates “have not been proven correct.” The British pound hit a 31-year low on Wednesday, but had recovered slightly against the dollar Thursday, rising 1% to $1.3027. “Let’s banish the pessimists,” said Ms. Leadsom. “Today, I want to speak to the markets as well as to the nation: No one needs to fear our decision to leave the EU.”
Ironically, that may “explain” why sterling was trading at day’s lows, or 1.2920, in the aftermath of the vote after rising above 1.30 earlier.
In any case, we look forward to some truly exciting woman-on-woman action as either May or Leadsom takes on the true ruler of Europe, Angela Merkel, in the coming weeks and months.
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