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The Brexit race for Number 10: Britain's Merkel, neo-con Gove, and a wily old Fox

David Cameron’s resignation has sparked a horse race for the leadership of Ireland’s main ally and trading partner.

Tory leadership contenders Michael Gove and Theresa May
Tory leadership contenders Michael Gove and Theresa May
Image: Joe Giddens

DAVID CAMERON’S RESIGNATION as British Prime Minister has sparked a contest for control of the Conservative Party, and with it the leadership of Ireland’s main ally and trading partner.

Once tipped to succeed his ally Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne has decided not to run after several unpopular budgets and his role in an unsuccessful Remain campaign.

Public favourite Boris Johnson, meanwhile, riding high after a successful Brexit campaign, was cut down in his pomp after his chief supporter Michael Gove decided to stand at the last minute – in the most dramatic piece of intrigue since the ousting of Margaret Thatcher 26 years ago.

Here we give you the three men and two women vying for control of the world’s fifth largest economy, beginning with the two main contenders, Theresa May and Michael Gove.

Conservative leadership bid Theresa May Source: PA WIRE

Theresa May (favourite at 1-2 on)

The 59-year-old has replaced Boris Johnson as the bookies’ favourite to become Tory leader, and Prime Minister, following the swift defenestration of Boris Johnson.

She has held the Home Office brief – often something of a poisoned chalice – since 2010, making her the longest-serving Home Secretary for almost a century.

A former Tory party chairman, she says she can offer the “strong leadership” and unity the UK needs, and has promised a “positive vision” for the country’s future, focusing on connecting with poorer voters. She quietly backed staying in the EU during the referendum campaign, but remains popular among Tory grassroots.

She is often compared to Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, and like Thatcher is a workaholic, frequently working until 3am. A fan of Jamie Oliver rather than Delia Smith, she has a reputation in public as a no-nonsense authoritarian, famously chastising the Police Federation in 2014 for “mouthing platitudes” over corruption in the force.

Like Merkel, she is a clergyman’s daughter and never had children. “It just didn’t happen,” she told the Telegraph in 2012. “You look at families all the time and you see there is something there that you don’t have.”

Like many Tories, May believes the UK can keep access to free movement of goods and capital while trying to stop free movement of people, ie immigration.

Conservative leadership bid Michael Gove (left) and former ally Boris Johnson hold a press conference at Brexit HQ in Westminster, London Source: Stefan Rousseau

Michael Gove (3-1)

The 48-year-old former newspaper columnist has helped to depose both David Cameron and Boris Johnson in the space of a week.

He has argued for a points-based immigration system similar to Australia, something which may severely limit the ability of Irish people to live or work in the UK.

In 2000, as a policy wonk he compared the Northern Ireland peace process to the appeasement of Hitler. Around that time he attracted a reputation as a British neo-con, calling for regime change in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

A foreign policy hawk, he called for the invasion of Iraq just two days after 11 September 2001 and was regarded as a slavish admirer of George W Bush, whom he likened to America’s Churchill. In 2008, after five years of bloodshed in Iraq, he described the Iraq invasion as a foreign policy success.

He has two children with Sarah Vine, a columnist with the Daily Mail who was compared to Lady MacBeth after mistakenly sending a Machiavellian email meant for her husband to a member of the public.

In the email, she issued strict instructions to the Justice Secretary.

You MUST have SPECIFIC assurances from Boris OTHERWISE you cannot guarantee your support… do not concede any ground.
He has repeatedly denied wanting to be prime minister. In 2012 he said he would be happy to sign a piece of parchment “in my own blood” to say he didn’t want to be prime minister – denials he repeated until June 2016.
His most famous Brexit quote – “people in this country have had enough of experts” – drew huge criticism for daring to challenge the honesty of the Bank of England.

He was also likened to Donald Trump after claiming the UK sends £350m to the EU every week, a figure that was rubbished by economists.

EU referendum Michael Gove with his wife Sarah Vine in March, after attending Rupert Murdoch's wedding reception Source: Yui Mok

Due to a phobia of flying, he asked not to be foreign secretary when Cameron was elected Prime Minister in 2010, instead getting the education portfolio, where he was branded a ‘zealot’ by teachers.

Described as a ‘modest Bible-basher’ by the London Times, Gove sent a Bible to every school when he became Education Secretary in 2010.

A reforming, if controversial, minister, he was demoted to chief whip in 2014 by Cameron, but appointed Minister for Justice in 2015.

He was a leading player in the Brexit campaign, leading to an open breach with David Cameron, formerly a close friend. He has pitched himself as the only candidate that can provide “unity and change” – effectively painting May as a regressive force.

Born in 1967 to a young single mother, he was adopted by a religious working-class couple from Aberdeen.

His father Ernest had a fish processing business and they moved from a small flat to a three-bed semi-detached house, before scraping together fees for a private school.

Gove stunned his family by moving to England to attend Oxford University, becoming president of the Oxford Union. “Insufficiently Conservative” for the Conserative Research Department, he became a journalist for the Aberdeen Press and Journal, and later a columnist for The Times.

THE DARK HORSES

Andrea Leadsom (9-2)

Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom

The 53-year-old former banker and fund manager was a leading light in the Leave campaign.

She was made a junior minister in the energy and climate change department in May 2015, and has served as a junior Treasury minister and as a member of the Treasury select committee.

Stephen Crabb 20-1

Conservative leadership bid Stephen Crabb

The 43-year-old was promoted to cabinet in 2014 as Welsh secretary, and in the past year was elevated to work and pensions secretary.

A rising Tory star, he has promised to provide stability and unite the party and country in the wake of the divisive Brexit campaign.

Raised on a Welsh council estate by a single mother, an unusual back story that, supporters say, would strike a chord with new voters. He supported remaining in the European Union, but now says the UK must accept the reality of Brexit.

He has set out three aims for EU negotiations: controlling immigration; as much access to EU markets as possible; and ending the supremacy of EU law.

Liam Fox (33-1)

Conservative leadership bid Liam Fox Source: Dominic Lipinski

The 54-year-old ex-defence secretary and GP was a close third in the 2005 leadership contest behind David Cameron and David Davis.

His cabinet career was cut short in 2011 when he resigned following a lobbying row.

A Brexit campaigner, and firm right-winger, he has said whoever becomes PM must accept Brexit and not “try to backslide” over EU membership.

Read: My boy Boris carried Gove, and now he’s been stabbed in the back, says Stanley Johnson

Read: Boris Johnson is NOT running for Conservative party leader

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