Tue, Jun 11, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Race to replace May under way

AFP, LONDON

The contest to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May formally got under way yesterday, with frontrunner Boris Johnson facing criticism from Paris over his Brexit plan and a key rival struggling to throw off a drugs scandal.

Eleven candidates have declared their interest in succeeding May, who quit as her Conservative party’s leader on Friday over her failure to take Britain out of the EU on time.

She remains prime minister until a new leader is chosen, likely late next month, who will automatically enter Downing Street.

The race has been dominated by Britain’s looming EU exit on Oct. 31, with Johnson among those talking tough on the need to renegotiate the terms May struck or leave with no deal.

However, his vow to refuse to pay the multibillion-dollar financial settlement she has agreed, covering Britain’s liabilities from four decades of EU membership, drew a sharp rebuke from Paris.

“Not honoring payment obligations is a breach of international commitment equivalent to a default on its sovereign debt, with the consequences that we know,” a source close to French President Emmanuel Macron said.

Johnson is the bookmakers’ favorite, but has not appeared in public for weeks, a tactic that has helped the politician best known for his gaffes, jokes and anecdotes to stay on message.

While his rivals have been touring the broadcast studios, he announced his latest campaign promise — to slash income tax — in his regular newspaper column.

By contrast, another leading candidate, British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove, spent the weekend apologizing after revealing he had taken cocaine on several occasions two decades ago.

May took over after the 2016 EU referendum, but was forced to quit after failing three times to get her divorce deal through parliament, and twice delaying Brexit.

Johnson and Gove were both leading campaigners for Brexit in the referendum, but while the former quit the government over May’s approach, Gove stayed on.

The pair have history — Gove dramatically withdrew his backing for Johnson during the 2016 leadership campaign, only to falter himself, clearing the way for May.

The 51-year-old’s campaign this time has been hit by the revelation in a forthcoming biography of his illegal use of cocaine, which he admitted, but said was a mistake.

He suffered another blow yesterday, when his Cabinet colleague, Amber Rudd, a moderate on Brexit, endorsed Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt for the leadership.

Gove has taken a softer line on Britain’s EU departure than Johnson, suggesting he might delay Brexit once again to try to avoid a damaging “no deal” exit.

Meanwhile, Hunt claimed at that weekend that he had received encouraging signals for renegotiating the Brexit deal from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In response, a German government spokeswoman referenced a previous remark by Merkel that the deal could not be reopened, although a declaration on future ties could be.

British Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, former Brexit minister Dominic Raab and House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom are also in the running among several others.

Each must have the support of at least eight Conservative MPs to stand. In a series of secret ballots running from Thursday to June 20, MPs will then whittle down the field to a final pair.

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