Conservatives begin process for selecting new leader
A NEW prime minister and Conservative leader should be in place by September 2 at the latest, the party's 1922 Committee executive has recommended – with nominations opening tomorrow and closing on Thursday.
At an emergency meeting in Westminster, it agreed unanimously that the contest should be run under the same rules as 2005, which will see MPs pick two candidates to put to the wider membership.
The speedy process – which has to be signed off by the party board today and a full meeting of the backbench committee tomorrow – would appear to favour established candidates.
Pro-Brexit Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Theresa May, who backed Remain, are leading a pack of at least 10 senior figures tipped to be contenders in the battle to succeed David Cameron.
Mr Cameron, announcing his departure in the immediate wake of his defeat in the EU referendum, had said he wanted his successor in place by the time of the Conservative Party conference, which starts on October 2.
But 1922 chairman Graham Brady indicated that the process could be completed significantly more quickly.
Under the proposed timetable, nominations would open as backbenchers rubber stamp it at their regular Wednesday evening gathering and close at noon the following day.
"We then recommend that the process of electing a new leader of the Conservative Party should commence next week – with the beginning of any necessary parliamentary ballots – and conclude no later than Friday September 2, although an earlier conclusion may be possible," Mr Brady said.
Mr Johnson summoned friendly Tory MPs to his Oxfordshire home on Sunday in likely preparation for a run at the party's leadership, as the home secretary was reportedly sounding out colleagues.
Mrs May is thought to be the main contender to take on the former London mayor and a plot dubbed 'ABB' (Anyone But Boris) has reportedly begun, organised by ministers and aides loyal to Mr Cameron.
Other challengers could also include pro-Remain MPs Sajid Javid, the business secretary, education secretary Nicky Morgan, work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb and energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd.
Despite once saying the health secretary brief was his "last big job in politics", Jeremy Hunt is also reported to be among those considering a shot at the leadership.
Prominent Brexit campaigners Andrea Leadsom, minister for energy and climate change, and work and pensions minister Priti Patel are expected to stand, according to reports.
Ms Leadsom did not rule out a run at the leadership and told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "I'm looking at all sorts of angles and considering and I'm not saying anything at this moment."
Former defence secretary Liam Fox, the only MP to have publicly confirmed he is considering a bid, will have been disappointed at the truncated timetable.
He had suggested that the timetable should be extended to January 1 with candidates making their pitches at the October conference before MPs decide the two-person shortlist.
Mr Johnson and Mrs May have been urged by Cabinet minister Justine Greening to form a "united leadership" to help bring together a country left divided after the poll.
The International Development Secretary said if Mr Johnson and Mrs May were unable to agree, another pair of MPs from either side of the referendum divide could step forward to "bring Britain back together".
Chancellor George Osborne gave no clues on whether he would be a candidate in the leadership election as he set out measures to calm the financial markets in an early-morning statement at the Treasury.
Mr Osborne, whose credentials for a tilt at the top job are seen even by allies to have been badly damaged by the Brexit vote, said only that he would address the question of his future role in the Conservative Party in the coming days.
Asked whether he would serve in a Brexit-backing government, Mr Osborne said: "I take a simple view of life, which is 'It's my country, right or wrong' and I intend to fulfil my responsibilities to the country."