Manchester, England: Whether Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt is announced as leader of the Conservative party, that individual will automatically become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.
The new leader will take over a deeply divided party, and must try to lead the nation — at odds over Brexit — out of the European Union in the coming months.
Here’s a look at some scenarios the new leader will face:
Boris or Jeremy?
Over the course of two weeks in June, the 313 Conservative Members of Parliament whittled down a crowded field of a dozen potential candidates to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May to just two: the former Mayor of London and ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and Jeremy Hunt, who now holds that foreign affairs portfolio. Approximately 152,000 Conservative party members have voted on the two, with the new party leader likely to be announced on Tuesday.
So they become PM straight away?
No, not just then. On Wednesday, May will have her last formal meeting with Queen Elizabeth II — in theory, the PM serves at the behest of the monarch — and will advise the queen that she is resigning and that the Conservatives have selected a new leader. The new PM will then head to Buckingham Palace for the queen to meet her new first — or “prime” — minister.
Here we go again …
The new Prime Minister will be the 14th to represent Her Majesty’s Government since Elizabeth became monarch on February 6, 1952. They are Sir Winston Churchill; Sir Anthony Eden; Harold MacMillan; Sir Alec Douglas Home; Harold Wilson; Edward Heath; Harold Wilson; James Callaghan; Margaret Thatcher; Sir John Major; Tony Blair; Gordon Brown; David Cameron; and Theresa May, who has held office since July 13, 2016; and May’s successor
So, is it Boris or Jeremy?
Yes … Heading into the ballot of party members, Johnson was the clear favourite, with straw polls giving him the support of more than 60 per cent of registered Tories. But Hunt campaigned hard and made much of his opponent’s unwillingness to answer questions, a rift in his personal life and inconsistencies in policy matters. But unless there’s a real surprise, the odds are well in Johnson’s favour.
And what about Brexit?
Ah, Brexit. That’s the issue that divided the party, divided the Commons, divided the nation, divided May’s government. And it broke May too. She spent two years negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU27 and Brussels but failed on three attempts to get MPs to back that agreement. So yes, Brexit remains the biggest single issue awaiting the new prime minister and the deadline of October 31.
An October 31 deadline?
Yes. That’s just 100 days from when either Hunt or Johnson takes over 10 Downing Street. Both have said that the UK will leave then, but Hunt has left a little wriggle room and hinted that it may be delayed if he was close to renegotiating a new deal with Brussels. And Brussels says there may be some flexibility in extending that date.
There are more Brexit talks?
Well no. Or yes. Maybe. As things stand now, the EU27 and the European Commission have said that the Withdrawal Agreement is the only deal, and that there will be no new talks with the new UK Prime Minister. But Brussels has also said that it would talk to the new PM to try and avoid a hard Brexit come October 31.
The hard Brexit is back on?
Yes, if Johnson becomes Prime Minister, there is a far greater change of the UK leaving the EU without a deal — the dreaded hard Brexit. That would bring an immediate economic shock to the UK and the bloc, likely put hundreds of thousands out of work in Britain, see food and medicine shortages, house prices drop by a third, and devastate the all-Ireland economy, sideswiping France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
Seriously, is that a reality?
All of the experts, analysts and economists say yes. The pound has lost 3 per cent of its value over the course of the leadership campaign as it looked more likely that Johnson would win. He says come hell or high water, deal or no deal, the UK is out on Halloween. He’s even suggested that he would prorogue — suspend — parliament at Westminster to make sure the Brits leave October 31.
Can a hard Brexit be stopped?
Yes and no. MPs last week voted to have weekly updates filed to it on the progress of political talks in Northern Ireland — a tactic that technically means the House of Commons must sit to hear those reports. And if it’s sitting, it can’t be prorogued … cat and mouse games. But it all goes to show the political mess that either Johnson or Hunt inherits.
Then there’s a vote of confidence
The new PM will also likely soon face a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. The Conservatives are in a minority, rely on 10 votes front Ulster MPs. Labour and other parties want a general election. Should disgruntled pro-EU and anti-Johnson Conservatives break ranks — he would be a divisive and controversial choice — and the new PM lose that no-confidence vote, then would likely be a new general election.
A general election?
It’s a very real possibility — which would mean that October 31 deadline might be missed. And should win, there would very well be another referendum on the EU … but that’s another day’s work.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe