Race to replace Theresa May as PM begins in UK

British Prime Minister Theresa May

London,  The race to succeed Theresa May as the new British Prime Minister has begun with Tory leadership contenders clashing over Brexit.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, 40, become the latest Cabinet minister on Saturday to declare his intentions to stand for the Conservative leadership after May’s resignation.

Hancock joins a long list of prominent Conservatives vying for the party leadership — and, by default, the country — including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, party leader Andrea Leadsom and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey have also confirmed their intentions to stand, the BBC reported.

Despite May’s troubles in winning over enough MPs for her Brexit deal, Hancock told Radio 4’s Today programme that a majority of the Commons wanted to leave the European Union, but there had been “disagreements on how”.

He said May’s successor must be “brutally honest” about the “trade-offs” required to get a deal through Parliament. Rejecting the suggestions for general elections, he said it would be “a disaster for the country” and would risk “Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by Christmas”.

Hancock also said the party needed a “leader for the future, not just for now”, capable of appealing to younger voters. “We need to move on from the horrible politics of the last three years. We need a fresh start and a fresh face to ensure that this country wins the battles of the 2020s and remains prosperous for many years to come.”

The Conservative Party bosses expect a new leader to be chosen by the end of July. May said on Friday she would resign as the party leader on June 7, but will continue as the Prime Minister while the leadership contest takes place.

Stewart urged politicians to tell the truth about where they stood on Brexit and suggested, for that reason, he could not serve in a Cabinet under Johnson.

Johnson told an economic conference in Switzerland on Friday a new leader would have “the opportunity to do things differently”. “We will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal. The way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no deal.”

Most bookmakers have Johnson as favourite against Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, who are yet to declare their plans.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has ruled herself out, saying the party and the country wants “someone who is more enthusiastic about Brexit than I am”.

Tory MPs have until the week, starting June 10, to put their names forward and any of them can stand — as long as they have the backing of two parliamentary colleagues.