May steps down as party leader as Tories scramble to select her successor

Theresa May is stepping down as the leader of the Conservative Party, but will stay on as prime minister until the Tories select a successor. The weeks-long process means that May won’t leave Downing Street until the end of July.

The embattled prime minister, who announced her resignation two weeks ago, will formally relinquish her role as party leader on today. The move signals the start of a somewhat tedious Tory leadership contest, in which 11 Conservative MPs will face off in a series of ballots that will determine the party leader and ultimately, prime minister.

A time-consuming process

Headhunting for a new Tory leader will take time. The selection process begins on Monday, when candidates will be nominated and confirmed. The first round of voting will begin later in the week, with Conservative MPs whittling down the list of candidates in a series of successive ballots. If all goes according to plan, the Tories will have chosen two candidates by June 20. The final two will then face off in a vote in which all Conservative Party members will be allowed to have their say. The victor will be announced on July 22.

BoJo’s moment?

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been characterized as a clear favorite in the contest. US President Donald Trump said during his recent state visit to the UK that he “liked” Johnson and thought he would do “a very good job” as prime minister. But Johnson would be unwise to rest on such laurels. Past experience shows that front-runners can be usurped by underdogs. Such was the case with former Prime Minister David Cameron, who beat favorite David Davis in the 2005 leadership election.

An uncertain Brexit

Whoever replaces May will likely decide the fate of Brexit and whether the UK will stick with its October 31 deadline for leaving the EU, deal or no deal.

Even if the Tories choose a leader who is committed to exiting the bloc at the end of October – such as Johnson or former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the issue could ultimately be decided by Parliament.

“If we get a pro-Brexit prime minister, he or she is really going to struggle to get Brexit through Parliament and could even face a vote of no confidence to prevent the UK leaving with no deal,” Richard Wellings, a deputy director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, a British think tank, told RT. “At which point he or she will probably have to call a general election, and that will be hugely risky.”

The Tories received a severe lashing at the polls during last month’s European Parliament elections, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party finishing over 20 percent ahead of the Conservatives. Farage has warned that his newly-formed party would inflict another crushing defeat on the Tories in a general election if the UK hasn’t left the EU by October 31.