Theresa May resignation: Who are the candidates to be the next Conservative leader?

With an undeclared Conservative Party leadership campaign having slowly gathered speed for weeks, Theresa May’s announcement that she will resign has set the top contenders free to begin canvassing for support in the open.

Friday, 24th May 2019, 5:13 pm
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is seen as the leading contender to succeed Theresa May

Who are the leading candidates, and who is supporting them?

Boris Johnson (4-5)

The former Foreign Secretary is the runaway favourite with the Conservative membership, who will choose between the last two contenders after MPs whittle down the candidates in a series of ballots.

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Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is seen as the leading contender to succeed Theresa May

In the past few days, three other possible contenders have said they will not stand and thrown their support behind him: the sacked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who can offer valuable experience as a former chief whip; Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs; and backbencher Johnny Mercer, who has a high profile as a former soldier who has campaigned on behalf of Northern Ireland veterans.

Johnson has also raised £130,000 for his leadership campaign war chest, the largest amount of donations of any candidate. His challenge will be to convince enough fellow MPs to give him the chance to get into the final two – 105 must get behind him to guarantee a place in the membership ballot.

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Dominic Raab (6-1)

Handout photo issued by Downing Street of members of Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet when it first convened in 2016. Picture: PA Wire

The former Brexit Secretary is one of the leading proponents of a no-deal Brexit on WTO terms. He has won the support of another former Brexit Secretary, David Davis, and moments before the Prime Minister delivered her statement, one of the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, Helen Grant, resigned in order to be free to back a leadership candidate – reported to be Raab.

He reacted to May’s statement on twitter: “Dignified as ever, @theresa_may showed her integrity. She remains a dedicated public servant, patriot and loyal Conservative.”

Jeremy Hunt (16-1)

The Foreign Secretary confirmed to his local newspaper in the hours after May’s announcement that he will run for leader. Hunt is understood to have delivered a decisive blow to her premiership when he met the Prime Minister on Thursday and told her she did not have the support of her Cabinet or party in offering MPs a vote on whether to hold a second Brexit referendum.

Tory insiders say the former Remainer could find himself in the last two, up against Brexit campaign leader Boris Johnson - although Hunt has since changed his view and now says the UK should be prepared to leave the EU without a deal.

Hunt, who was previously health secretary, responded to May’s resignation statement by praising her for increasing spending on the NHS. “A true public servant,” he posted on twitter.

Sajid Javid (25-1)

The Home Secretary has yet to declare he will seek the Tory leadership, but is seen as a likely candidate. Like Hunt, he met with the Prime Minister on Thursday and delivered a “candid” message that she had to abandon her Brexit legislation.

Javid, a former managing director of Deutsche Bank, revealed he reads the same passage from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead every year. The son of Muslim Pakistani immigrants, he would be the first Conservative leader from a minority background. Javid said yesterday morning: “Nobody could have worked harder or had a greater sense of public duty than the Prime Minister.”

Javid said this morning: "Nobody could have worked harder or had a greater sense of public duty than the Prime Minister. Her dedication in taking our country forward has been monumental. She has served her country with fortitude and we are grateful to her for it."

The Environment Secretary saw his leadership bid collapse three years ago, bringing down Boris Johnson as well, but he is preparing another attempt, and saw his campaign manager Mel Stride installed in the Cabinet as Commons Leader on Thursday.

Gove was born in Edinburgh and brought up in Aberdeen after being adopted as an infant. He is believed to have the support of several Scottish Tory MPs, who say he is the candidate who “gets the Union” the most. Reports suggest e could already have as many as 50 MPs lined up in his camp. However, he has been a leading supporter of the Prime Minister’s Brexit compromise talks with Labour, which have enraged Brexiteers.

A huge fan of Game of Thrones, Gove has said his favourite character is Tyrion Lannister – the outcast who becomes right hand man to the throne. He tweeted: “A moving speech from a Prime Minister who deserves our respect and gratitude. Thank you @theresa_may.”

Esther McVey (25-1)

The former TV presenter and Work and Pensions Secretary is one of just four MPs to have already declared their candidacy for the leadership. This week, at the launch of a ‘Blue Collar Conservatism’ group, she called for the next leader to be someone who “believes in Brexit”, and said the government should abandon its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid and invest the money in schools and policing instead.

Rory Stewart (25-1)

Stewart announced he was seeking the Tory leadership within days of being appointed International Development Secretary. He went to school at Eton, and while studying at Oxford, he was summer tutor to Princes William and Harry.

Stewart’s father was the deputy head of MI6 in the 1970s. Stewart worked at the Foreign Office after a short period as an officer in the Black Watch, and governed part of Iraq for coalition forces following the 2003 invasion.

His family live near Crieff in Perthshire, and ahead of the 2014 Scottish referendum, Stewart organised Hands Across the Border, a campaign to build a cairn at the border with messages of support for the Union. 100,000 stones were placed at the site near Gretna.

Andrea Leadsom (12-1)

Leadsom might have become leader three years ago, but withdrew before she could face Theresa May in the final ballot of Conservative members. She had suggested her status “as a mother” made her the better choice, in what was seen as an attack on May, who has no children.

The former Commons Leader quit May’s government this week over the Prime Minister’s offer of a vote on a second EU referendum, helping to bring an end to her premiership. During the last Tory succession campaign, supporters of the former Barclays investment banker held a ‘march’ to parliament to demand ‘Leadsom for leader’.

Sir Graham Brady (33-1)

The now former chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee has maintained his impartiality and confidentiality through months of coup plots by Tory MPs. Yesterday Brady stood down from the role, saying he could not organise a leadership contest that he was considering joining. “I am considering the approaches I have received and will make a decision in due course,” the former PR man said.

Steve Baker (50-1)

The self-described ‘hard man of Brexit’ was the leading force behind the failed attempt to oust Theresa May in December last year. Baker, a former junior Brexit minister who was a Royal Air Force engineer, was a serial rebel even before the EU referendum. He has also become the butt of jokes for his passionate support of Brexit, shedding tears in a BBC documentary and angrily telling colleagues earlier this year: “I could tear this place down and bulldoze it into the river.” He said yesterday: “I have had a degree of support from across the country that I could never have foreseen.”

Liz Truss (100-1)

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury is a favourite of the Tory right as a strong advocate of free-market policies and small government. The former accountant began her ministerial career in the education department, where she argued for pupils from all backgrounds to be pushed into academically rigorous subjects. Her enthusiastic speeches while Environment Secretary on subjects like the international cheese trade and pork markets mean she is also the subject of several popular internet memes.

James Cleverly (50-1)

Cleverly, now a junior Brexit minister, was appointed by Theresa May as a vice-chairman of the Conservatives in a bid to change their ‘pale and stale’ image, and make the party more digitally savvy. Cleverly, who joined the army in 1989, remains a commissioned officer in the reserves.

Penny Mordaunt (20-1)

Mordaunt served as the Conservative Party’s head of youth under John Major, and worked for both of George W Bush’s presidential campaigns. She is a Royal Navy reservist and at the start of the month was appointed as the UK’s first female Defence Secretary. In 2014, she appeared on high-diving reality TV show Splash! and performed a notorious belly-flop.

Matt Hancock (50-1)

The Health Secretary has cultivated a reputation as an energetic, tech-friendly moderniser. He added the word ‘Digital’ to the name of the Culture, Media and Sport Department while he was in charge, and famously launched his own app, named after himself. The former Bank of England economist was chief of staff to George Osborne before becoming an MP, and is seen as the only credible candidate from the centrist ‘Cameroon’ branch of the party.

* Odds from Ladbrokes