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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
the tories

Can anyone beat Boris? Here are the favourites to succeed Theresa May

All of them want Brexit but who will be the next Conservative party leader?


This morning, as expected, Theresa May said she’d be stepping down as Prime Minister.

Forlorn, left isolated by former allies, May’s time was finally up after repeatedly failing to get her Brexit deal through parliament. Her new plans that included a vote on a second referendum led a number of senior Tories to abandon her en masse, sealing her fate.

Not so much waiting in the wings as standing outside 10 Downing Street and peering through the windows are a number of candidates who’ve openly challenged May’s authority in the past and would dearly like to be the next prime minister and Conservative leader.

There’s one heavily tipped to succeed, but here’s a list of the favourites vying to be the top Tory.

Boris Johnson

Heathrow expansion Victoria Jones / PA Images Victoria Jones / PA Images / PA Images

The former mayor of London is seen as the most likely to succeed May at this time.

He campaigned for the UK to leave the EU back in 2016, and had initially seemed a likely candidate to succeed David Cameron before ally Michael Gove withdrew his support at the last minute.

Johnson was appointed as Foreign Secretary by Theresa May, but the gaffe-prone MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip often made headlines for the wrong reasons.

He frequently attacked Theresa May’s Brexit policies and resigned from as minister over the direction she was taking.

Bojo enjoys wide popularity among grassroots Conservatives, and enjoys the extra profile from his weekly column in the Daily Telegraph.

An endorsement from influential pro-Brexit backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg has boosted his chances, but the 54-year-old has also earned plenty of enemies within the party for his behaviour.

Stance on Brexit: Has said that Britain has nothing to fear from a no-deal Brexit. He’s also on record as saying a no-deal is the closest to what the British people voted for in the 2019 election. With Boris the most likely person to become prime minister, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said today that a no-deal Brexit is as close now as it’s ever been.

Chances: He’s 6/4 favourite with the bookies, enjoys support from hardline Brexiteers and party grassroots. At this stage, it doesn’t look likely he’ll be beaten.

Dominic Raab

Brexit Steve Parsons / PA Images Steve Parsons / PA Images / PA Images

The former Brexit minister is perhaps best known for resigning his position because he was dissatisfied with Brexit deal he helped to negotiate.

The 45-year-old – who also has a blackbelt in karate – had quickly climbed the ministerial ladder after only joining the government in 2015 under former prime minister David Cameron.

Just before his departure as Brexit minister, Raab was widely mocked for saying that he “hadn’t quite understood” how reliant UK trade in goods is on the Dover-Calais crossing between Britain and France.

Remaining outside government since then, he has appeared in campaign mode in recent months, reportedly hiring staff and giving multiple newspaper interviews.

Stance on Brexit: Raab is an ardent eurosceptic who loathes the backstop and other provisions of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. A no-deal would also be more likely under his premiership

Chances: Raab is second favourite on 4/1. The problem for him is that he doesn’t offer much beyond what Boris Johnson already offers. 

Michael Gove

Food waste Jonathan Brady / PA Images Jonathan Brady / PA Images / PA Images

“Whatever charisma is, I don’t have it.” This is an actual thing that Michael Gove has said in the past, when he came 3rd in the race to be the prime minister after Cameron.

The Brexit campaigner Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016 but at the last minute announced his own intention to run, causing both men to lose out to May.

After a year in the political wilderness, he was appointed environment minister in June 2017 and has stayed in the headlines with a series of eco-friendly policy announcements.

While still one of the most ardent eurosceptics who remained in May’s faltering Cabinet, he did back her withdrawal agreement. 

Stance on Brexit: Gove thinks a second referendum would be undemocratic and he has backed May in the past. He has said the UK needs to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but it remains to be seen how Prime Minister Gove could possibly deliver a deal that satisfies the EU and the House of Commons after Theresa May failed repeatedly and spectacularly.

Chances: He’s 11/1 to get in. Not looking great for him at the minute, but anything is possible.

Andrea Leadsom

Brexit Victoria Jones / PA Images Victoria Jones / PA Images / PA Images

The former House of Commons leader stole a march on her rivals by quitting her cabinet position on Wednesday, hastening the prime minister’s demise and staking out her pro-Brexit credentials.

She came 2nd to May in the 2016 leadership race, pulling out after coming under fire for saying that being a mother would give her an advantage as prime minister over childless May.

Another eurosceptic, Leadsom said in her resignation letter this week that she stayed in Cabinet “to shape and fight for Brexit” but “no longer believes that our approach will deliver on the referendum result”. 

Leadsom said she had made some “uncomfortable compromises” up until now but cannot continue to support May. 

Stance on Brexit: Wants Britain to leave the EU, and signalled that she didn’t want to leave without a deal while a minister. As with Gove, how to deliver that remains to be seen.

Chances: Also seen as a bit of a long shot, she’s 12/1 with the bookies.

Jeremy Hunt

Wall Street Journal CEO council meeting Stefan Rousseau / PA Images Stefan Rousseau / PA Images / PA Images

The foreign minister supported remaining in the European Union in the 2016 referendum but has been highly critical of what he calls the “arrogant” approach since taken by Brussels.

A former Health Minister, Hunt replaced Boris Johnson as foreign secretary last year.

He was criticised for a speech last year that compared the EU to the former Soviet Union.

The 52-year-old has signalled his intent to run for the leadership and, like several other contenders, recently invited a Sunday newspaper into his home for a profile.

Stance on Brexit: His conversion from remainer to Brexiteer may not appear the most credible, but Hunt will hope he can run a successful leadership campaign pledging to unite the fractured Conservative party and also deliver Brexit.

Chances: Hunt is also 12/1 so will need to run a very effective campaign and convince the party he’s a more credible choice than Boris to have a chance.

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