Wednesday, March 27, 2019

May's Brexit Resignation Offer: What Happens Next?
Prime minister will resign if her deal passes parliament, triggering Tory leadership race

Peter Walker Political correspondent
Wed 27 Mar 2019 21.10 EDT

Theresa May has announced that she will step down as prime minister before the next phase of the Brexit negotiations. Here is what we know so far.

What did the PM say?

May told a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers she would go if her plan is passed by the Commons: “I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, and I won’t stand in the way of that.” She said she had “heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party” in wanting this to happen.

When will she go?

Her published comments to the 1992 Committee do not make this explicit, but MPs talking to reporters afterwards said they were clear this meant she would start the process on 22 May – the date of the UK’s departure agreed with the EU if her deal is passed. This, however, would just be the start of the leadership battle, and a successor would not be in place until the summer. The reported expectation is that this could be July.

What happens if her deal is defeated?

It seems she will stay. The leading Brexiter MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said after the meeting that if May’s deal lost in a third meaningful vote, “she would have every right to carry on”. This could, of course, change very quickly if political pressure mounted again.

How will the next leader be selected?

Under the Conservative party rules, the same ones under which May took over from David Cameron, the process has two parts.

In the first, Tory MPs hold a series of votes to whittle down the initial field of candidates to two. Officially it happens one by one: after every ballot, in which each MP can vote for one candidate, the bottom-placed person is eliminated. However, in reality, people tend to drop out more quickly if they realise they have no chance of winning. In 2016, the bottom two candidates left after the first ballot, Stephen Crabb and Liam Fox, both quit.

The rules decree that the final two candidates are then put to a vote of party members. In 2016 this did not happen because Andrea Leadsom, the second person left with May, dropped out. When Cameron became leader in 2005, he easily beat David Davis, winning 68% of the members’ vote. In 2001, Iain Duncan Smith beat Ken Clarke by a similar margin.

Who will stand?

A better question may be: who won’t? More than a dozen ministers and backbenchers have been mentioned as possible candidates, and others are bound to emerge. Lots will not – traditionally, a number of people tend to drop out immediately before the MPs’ votes begin, throwing their lot behind another MP on the implicit hope of a decent ministerial job in the event of success.

One clear divide will be between Brexiter MPs and those with more remain tendencies. On the former side, clear frontrunners will most likely be the former cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, and possibly the environment secretary, Michael Gove. Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, and Penny Mourdant, the international development secretary, could fancy their chances.

On the less Brexity side, Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary and now officially a born-again Brexiter, is expected to run, as could Sajid Javid, the home secretary. Others could include Matt Hancock, who replaced Hunt as health secretary, and Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary. Backbenchers could even have a try, for example George Freeman or Johnny Mercer.

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