Dismal but determined Theresa May, the political equivalent of an ingrowing toenail, has finally admitted defeat and allowed herself to be removed from government. Allow yourself the briefest of cheers… then steel yourself for what happens next.
Um, so when’s she actually going then?
May steps down as Conservative Party leader on June 7, and a week later the Tory leadership contest begins. Whoever wins this will become the next Prime Minister, but while the contest is taking place, May remains at Number 10 and (theoretically) running the country. Come on, you weren’t expecting a swift and painless “Texit”, were you?
How does the Tory leadership contest work?
It’s a two-part process, essentially. First Conservative MPs whittle down the candidates to a pair of frontrunners. Then the party members get to choose between them in a postal vote. In the past, this process has stretched out over several months, but given that the parliamentary recess is looming on July 24, and the UK remains entrenched in Brexit hell, it’s surely going to be sped up this time.
Who wants to be our next PM?
The BBC reckons there are 13 possible candidates for the leadership, but the bookies place Boris Johnson as favourite, followed by Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Andrea Leadsom. So while this contest offers no such thing as a “good result”, there’s definitely a worst case scenario, as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon points out.
That Boris Johnson as PM is a serious proposition is proof that the Tories have taken leave of their senses. Nothing – apart from Brexit obvs – has done more to trash the UK’s global reputation in last three years than his risible tenure as Foreign Secretary https://t.co/M1jTDVBOGw
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 24, 2019
How does this affect Brexit?
Ultimately, this depends on who wins the leadership contest. The new Prime Minister could ask the EU for another extension, but this wouldn’t be popular with some key European leaders, most notably French president Emmanuel Macron. If the new PM favours a hard Brexit, (s)he could in theory force through a no-deal Brexit on October 31, but this looks like a super-risky move. Maddy Thimont Jack of the Institute of Government, a senior researcher working on Brexit, writes in The Guardian: “Taking the UK out of the EU without a deal, against the wishes of a majority of MPs in parliament, would make it very difficult for a new PM to govern in the weeks and months afterwards.”
Could we get another general election?
As you’d expect, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has already called for one, saying: “Whoever becomes the new Conservative leader must let the people decide our country’s future, through an immediate general election.” The respective leaders of the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, Sir Vince Cable and Caroline Lucas, have instead used the PM’s resignation to underline their arguments for a second Brexit referendum.
While May was almost uniquely ill-equipped to be negotiator we needed, truth is she was given impossible job
You can’t achieve a hard Brexit & avoid hard border in N. Ireland, & no new PM can achieve it either
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) May 24, 2019
And, um, what about the European elections?
We find out the results from the UK and the rest of Europe on Sunday night, once citizens in every EU member state have had the opportunity to visit their local polling station without hearing how other countries voted first. If the Tories perform as woefully as some pundits are predicting, it will make the fact that their party membership and their party membership alone gets to choose our next Prime Minister even tougher to swallow. So lads, this whole sorry mess definitely isn’t over yet.
And what could the results mean for Brexit?
It depends, really, on the extent to which Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party cleans up – they’re expected to win more seats than anyone else, but if they gobble up a really significant proportion of the vote, something approaching 40%, Leave campaigners will use this to claim that the British public believes “Brexit means Brexit” and there’s no real appetite for a second referendum. But equally, if the Remain parties (the Lib Dems, Change UK and the Greens) collectively win a greater number of votes than the Brexit Party, they’d be able to argue that the campaign for a “people’s vote” is gathering steam. And of course, many Tories voting for a new leader will be swayed by what they believe that the British public wants. So if the European elections point to a strong desire for Brexit any any cost, it’s more likely that our next Prime Minister will push for a swift or even no-deal departure from the EU.