LONDON: Backbencher Mark Harper became the 12th Conservative MP to enter the contest to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, the Daily Telegraph reported Friday, as a shock poll highlighted the task facing her successor.

The former chief whip admitted he was an “underdog”, but told the newspaper his low profile could work in his favour.

“We’ve seen basically the same faces saying the same things that they’ve been saying for the last three years,” he said.

Brexit will dominate the battle to replace May, who was brought down by her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on March 29 as planned.

Former foreign secretary and pro-Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson is the hot favourite to take the top job, and is popular with grassroot party members.

But they will only get a vote after the Tory MPs whittle down the list — currently 12 names long — to a final two, and many are opposed to Johnson due to his pro-Brexit stance and gaffe-prone personality.

The Tories suffered humiliation during the recent European elections, receiving only nine per cent of the vote as they bled support to the newly formed Brexit Party.

But the opposition Labour Party was also punished for its ambiguity over Brexit, coming in third place behind the stridently anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats.

The realignment of British politics away from the traditional two parties towards a more dispersed model reshaped by Brexit appears to be gathering momentum, according to a poll published in the Times.

The YouGov study found 24 per cent of voters planned to vote for the Lib Dems at a general election, 22 per cent for the Brexit Party and 19 per cent for both the Tories and Labour.

— AFP