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Theresa May resigns: How will the Conservative leadership race work?

Who will let in Larry the cat when Theresa May leaves Downing Street?
Who will let in Larry the cat when Theresa May leaves Downing Street? Copyright REUTERS
Copyright REUTERS
By Alastair Jamieson
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The contest to find Britain's next Prime Minister has begun, but how does it work and how long will it take?


The contest to replace Theresa May as British Prime Minister has begun, but how does it work and how long will it take?

The Conservative party leader announced on Friday that she would step down on June 7, having failed to secure parliamentary approval for her Brexit deal.

With the clock already ticking down to the extended Brexit deadline of October 31, there is intense pressure to install a replacement so that political momentum towards a solution can be maintained.

Who is running Britain?

The Prime Minister in place during a leadership contest still has all the powers of office until a new leader is chosen. This is also true during general elections, where the PM remains in office until a new government is elected.

It means May still has the task of hosting US President Donald Trump during his state visit early next month.

How are the candidates chosen?

Conservative MPs who want the job must secure the approval of two nominees in order to put their names forward.

The process is overseen by the "1922 committee" — the parliamentary body representing ordinary Conservative MPs who are not part of the government. It is currently chaired by Sir Graham Brady, although it was reported on Friday that he was himself considering joining the contest, which would require him to step aside from his committee role.

MPs vote in a series of secret ballots, usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with least-supported candidates dropping out of the race until there are only two remaining.

After that, the contest is opened up to a ballot of all Conservative party members that could involve hustings in different parts of the country.

The Institute for Government has the individual ballot results for every Conservative leadership contest since 1965.

How long will it take?

The timescale is set by the 1922 Committee, which on Friday said it would begin the contest on Monday, June 10 and aimed to have a new leader by the end of July.

"We intend that the Parliamentary stages of the contest — which involves determining the final choice of candidates to put before all members of the party — should begin with the close of nominations in the week commencing 10 June," Chairman of the Conservative Party Brandon Lewis said in a statement. 

Members should be able to cast their votes "in time for the result to be announced before Parliament rises for the summer," he added, which is at the end of July.

At the last contest, in the wake of the June 2016 Brexit referendum, the process was scheduled to take two months but Andrea Leadsom withdrew during the second stage and Theresa May became leader.

Once the winner has been chosen, Theresa May will go to Buckingham Palace to tender her resignation to the Queen, and the new Tory leader will be invited to take up the role as Prime Minister with immediate effect.

Can the rules change?

Yes, the above practices are not formally published and can be changed at any time by the 1922 Committee. For example, prior to May’s resignation, the committee was considering a suspension of the rule that prevented leadership challenges if one had already taken place within the last 12 months.

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