Environment Secretary Michael Gove. We currently have five just candidates left after the start of the second round of voting. Image Credit: AFP

What happened and why?

When an incumbent British Prime Minister resigns before the end of their term it is up to their party to decide who will replace them not the public. This process started on June 7 when Theresa May stepped down after failing to secure a Brexit deal. If she had held on until the end of her term her successor would have been appointed from a general election chosen from the country’s entire public electorate (an estimated 50 million people are eligible to vote in the UK) rather than just a small few in this case of just 124,000 conservative party members.

What happens now?

From June 10 potential candidates from May’s Conservative Party were already setting out their positions in a series of presentations known as ‘hustings’. These presentations were given to rally the support of other Conservative party Members of Parliament (MPs). Each candidate needs the backing of at least eight MPs from their own party before they can be entered into the race to become Britain’s next Prime Minister. There are then two rounds of ballots among the 313 Conservative MPs left who are eligible to vote. From the first round on June 13, which entailed 10 candidates, three were eliminated for failing to reach the threshold of 17 votes and a fourth candidate withdrew. In the second round, which started on June 18 candidates with less than 33 votes were eliminated. This process continues until June 20 until there are just two candidates remaining. A Prime Minister from the remaining two will then be chosen through a postal ballot of all 124,000 conservative party members (not just MPs). The postal ballots are will be sent out in time for July 6-8 and hustings of the final pair will run from June 22 until July 22 when a new British Prime Minister will be announced as a result of the internal vote.

Who is still in the running?

We currently have five just candidates left after the start of the second round of voting. Candidates are:

Boris Johnson: The former Mayor of London and Home Secretary, who is now a backbencher, Boris was a leading Brexiteer and now wants to leave Europe on the EU deadline of October 31 with or without a Brexit deal. He also wants to remove the Irish backstop (the soft border between Northern Ireland and the EU’s RepubIic of Ireland) and find alternative arrangements. On top of this, he plans to withhold the £39 million divorce settlement with the EU until there is more clarity.

Jeremy Hunt: The former Health Secretary and current Foreign Secretary campaigned to remain during the 2016 referendum, but is now a Brexiteer. He once considered a no deal Brexit suicide, but now says it’s on the table but not his preferred option. He also wants changes to the Irish backstop and the withdrawal agreement but says it can be done by the October 31 deadline, but hasn’t ruled out an extension.

Michael Gove: The former Education Secretary and current Environment Secretary was, like Boris Johnson, a leading Brexiteer during the referendum. He would consider a Brexit delay in order to negotiate a better deal and plans to negotiate the Irish backstop with a free trade agreement. He also says he would support a no deal Brexit if he couldn’t get a better deal from Brussels.

Sajid Javid: The Home Secretary was a remainer during the referendum, and now doesn’t want another extension to the current October 31 deadline and says we must be prepared for a no deal Brexit. He also wants Irish backstop changes and will deploy a border force.

Rory Stewart: The International Development Secretary was also a remainer during the referendum and is now dead against a no deal Brexit. He also thinks it’s unrealistic to get a deal before the October 31 deadline and prefers to push through Theresa May’s current deal, but failing that he would push for a compromise.

Who is the favourite?

Boris Johnson topped both the first and second round of votes with 114 and 126 votes respectively. He has an 80 to 90 per cent chance of winning according to betting odds and over 50 per cent of conservative party members polled opted for him. All this is despite the fact that he has the least experience of all of the five candidates with the least amount of years in government and shadow cabinet with less than five years. The most experienced is actually Jeremy Hunt, who has almost 15 years experience in government, shadow cabinet and the select committee.

What is the backstop and how big a deal is it?

The current soft border arrangement between Britain’s Northern Ireland and the EU’s Republic of Ireland – the only point where Britain and Europe meet – exists because of a long-standing peace agreement. While the Republic of Ireland is largely Catholic their northern neighbours are largely Protestant and want to remain part of Britain. There remains a large Catholic population in Northern Ireland however who view themselves more as Irish, who want Ireland to be one. Since the soft border arrangement, Catholics and Protestants have remained largely at peace, but if a border is reinstalled it could reawaken old rivalries between the two sects. Aside from practical problems of free trade and long queues at borders between the two countries, the risk of flaring up violence is very real.

What do drugs have to do with it?

A number of candidates have come out and admitted drug use during their University days. This could be to pre-empt Tabloid news stings, which threaten to derail their campaign, or it could be a highly misguided attempt to lure support or news exposure by appearing cool or human by having made previous mistakes that they now regret. Michael Gove’s cocaine admission backfired with reports saying he might not be allowed into America now, while relatively unknown Rory Stewart shot into the limelight after admitting to smoking opium at a wedding in Afghanistan. If details of his past hadn’t emerged people may have continued to not know who he was, but it’s a dangerous card to play and not a great example to youth.

What’s the general consensus from Brits

It doesn’t really matter because they won’t be the ones to pick their new Prime Minister anyway that goes to the Conservative party to decide from within. But for the record, tired and fatigued from a long and drawn out Brexit process, many – even if they started as remainers – have resigned themselves to Brexit happening and in such a case would rather see a quick and relatively painless end to this process so they can begin to pick up the pieces. General elections and a second referendum seem like a distance dream, so if it has to happen, the next leader needs to take quick and decisive action. Maybe this is why Johnson’s take on Brexit to get out now with or without a deal has been so popular among his peers. Endorsements from US President Donald Trump, who will remain a major trading partner post Brexit, are also decisive. Like Trump, Johnson also has a personality cult following. There’s something quintessentially British about the gaffe-prone blonde haired buffoon, whose Churchillian-like stance suggests he might get something done, or at least be entertaining if he doesn’t. It’s worrying however that this persona actually blinds people from his actual politics, especially as he has been so secretive on his stance to date, even shying from earlier TV debates. It was also Johnson remember who got us into this mess in the first place by campaigning for Brexit with what many now consider to be misleading information, especially in the case of the Brexit bus, which promised to instead give £350 million usually given to the EU each week to the National Health Service instead. That figure has since been widely discredited. If Boris was so set on Brexit and remains the most popular of the Brexiteers, he may as well see it through, but he remains a polarising character.