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Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech announcing her resignation outside 10 Downing Street in London on May 24, 2019. Image Credit: Bloomberg

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain has announced that she will step down as the Conservative Party leader on June 7, bringing into the open a party leadership struggle that has been underway on the sidelines for months.

But deep divisions within the party and the nation over Britain's withdrawal from the European Union proved fatal to May's leadership, and it is not clear that a successor would fare any better.

Anyone seeking the job first has to be nominated by two members of Parliament. If there is only one candidate, he or she automatically becomes the new leader. If there are more than two, lawmakers vote among themselves to narrow the field to two candidates, who then are put to a vote by the 120,000 mostly white, mostly aging Conservative Party members. The party said it expected to begin the nomination process in the week of June 10, after May steps aside, and to complete the process by the end of July.

Here are some potential successors seen as having the best chance to become head of the Conservative Party and, eventually, prime minister.

Boris Johnson

Johnson, 54, the former foreign secretary and one of the most outspoken critics of May's Brexit plan, is one of the most polarizing figures in British politics but seen by some hard-line Brexit supporters as a good choice.

He was a figurehead in the campaign to leave the European Union, and since the 2016 referendum has pushed for a hard split with the bloc. This stance regularly put him at odds with May as she fought for a deal that would, supposedly temporarily, maintain relatively closer ties to Europe, and he regularly undermined her efforts to sell her deal to Parliament.

Theresa May possible replacements 20190525
A combination of pictures created in London on May 17, 2019 shows declared and potential contenders in the upcoming Conservative Party leadership contest: (top L-R) Britain's Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, Britain's Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Britain's Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom, (middle L-R) Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, Britain's International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, Britain's Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Britain's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove (bottom L-R) Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Britain's Defence Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt. Image Credit: AFP

On Friday, that history seemed distant immediately after May's announcement. In a statement posted on Twitter, he thanked May for her "stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party" and urged lawmakers to heed her call to deliver Brexit.

Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was quick to call him out as hypocritical.

Johnson first gained notoriety for his bombastic displays as mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, before returning to Parliament. He was one of the most prominent voices of the Leave campaign that urged Britain to vote for the country's exit from the European Union, and since the 2016 referendum has advocated a hard split.

Johnson served as foreign secretary in May's Cabinet, but resigned in 2018 in protest over her withdrawal strategy.

Dominic Raab

Like Johnson, Raab has long advocated a sharp severing of ties with Europe. At 45, he is seen by some in the party as a youthful face who could redefine the leadership role.

He served for a short time as Brexit secretary, becoming May's lead negotiator in the withdrawal process. But he resigned unexpectedly in 2018. At the time, he said he was unable to "reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made," exposing a deep rift within May's Cabinet.

Andrea Leadsom

Leadsom, 56, has put herself forward for the party leadership before - in May 2016, she went up against May after Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down in 2016, after the referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union.

She unexpectedly dropped out before the issue was put to a vote, after her chances were damaged by comments she made in an interview with The Times of London in which she suggested that she was a better candidate for the premiership because she is a mother, unlike May.

This week, she resigned as the leader of the House of Commons, seemingly taking steps to distance herself from the failing leadership. She has been a vocal supporter of a clean break with the European Union.

Michael Gove

Gove, 51, the environment secretary, formerly served as justice secretary and education secretary and is seen by some as a front-runner for the leadership role.

Before the 2016 referendum, he campaigned for Britain's exit, and he has largely backed the prime minister's strategy during her time in office. He was vocal in his support for May and urged others within his party to support her deal in several iterations.

Gove proved an unlikely ally after he lost to May in his bid to succeed Cameron. When Gove offered himself up as a reluctant candidate in that leadership race, he very clearly acknowledged what he called his "limitations."

"Whatever charisma is, I don't have it," Gove said at the time. "Whatever glamour may be, I don't think anyone could ever associate me with it."

Jeremy Hunt

Hunt, 52, replaced Johnson as foreign secretary, having served as health secretary for the previous six years.

Like May, Hunt voted for Britain to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum. But in the years since, Hunt has become a supporter of the decision to leave, citing the "arrogant" and "disappointing" tactics of the bloc's negotiating team.

He was a vocal supporter of May's initial withdrawal deal, though on Thursday he withdrew his support for her "last chance deal" introduced this week. On Friday, he paid tribute to her service, calling her a "true public servant" in a tweet.

Sajid Javid

Javid, 49, the home secretary, once supported remaining in the European Union but has since thrown his support behind the efforts to leave.

The son of immigrants from Pakistan, Javid was a successful banker before turning to politics.

Javid has been positioning himself for a potential leadership role since early this year, making waves with the decision to strip the citizenship of Shamima Begum, the British teenager who traveled to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State group. But some, including fellow Tory lawmakers, criticized him for the move, calling it opportunistic.

David Lidington

Lidington, 62, supported the campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, and as May's de facto deputy is seen by some as her natural successor. When speculation arose last year about a possible coup within her Cabinet, some tabloids pointed to Lidington as the most likely next in line.

But others believe his prospects are slim. He has long expressed admiration for May and worked to rally support for her unpopular Brexit deal, but has said his position has given him a unique view of the difficult nature of the premiership.

"One thing that working closely with the prime minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task," he told The Guardian.