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Transatlantic Blog

Who are the candidates for UK prime minister/Conservative Party leader?

Nominations for the leadership of the Conservative Party – and, thus, to become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom – closed at 5 p.m. London time (noon EDT). The list of successful candidates was released by the 1922 Committee an hour later.

Under new Tory rules, a candidate needed the support of eight Members of Parliament, up from two, in order to advance to the first round of voting.

The 10 candidates running to succeed Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and UK prime minister are:

  • Boris Johnson, the colorful two-term mayor of London and Foreign secretary, is the frontrunner according to all polls. He led the Leave campaign before the 2016 Brexit referendum. He has raised the possibility of leaving the European Union without a deal and refusing to pay the £38 billion “divorce bill” if the EU does not offer more favorable terms after withdrawal. He has also proposed lightening the tax burden by raising the income subject to the 40 percent income tax from £50,000 ($63,400 U.S.) to £80,000 ($101,500). He also advocates raising education funding to at least £5,000 for every secondary school student.
  • Michael Gove, the current Environment secretary and former justice and education secretary, had been considered a strong contender. Gove campaigned for Leave but has said he will not leave the EU without a deal, even if it means delaying Brexit. In his announcement today, he critiqued Boris Johnson's plan to provide tax cuts for “the wealthiest first.” He passed a UK-wide ban on plastic straws, which will take effect in April 2020, has promised to raise education spending by £1 billion and vows to “ensure that our NHS is fully-funded.” He proposed replacing the “regressive” VAT tax with an unspecified, lower national sales tax. Gove found himself embroiled in a fresh controversy on Sunday when he admitted he had used cocaine decades ago, before advocating a lifetime ban on teachers who were caught using the drug.
  • Jeremy Hunt is the current Foreign secretary and previously the Health secretary. Hunt, who voted Remain, said he would not leave without a deal “if there was a prospect of a better deal.” Hunt said the UK should consider “big business cuts in tax,” reducing the corporate tax rate from 17 to 12.5 percent, inspired in part because “America under President Trump has got double the GDP growth that we have.” While Hunt said the UK's limit for legal, taxpayer-funded abortions should be reduced from 24 weeks to 12, he has clarified that “no government I lead will ever seek to change the law on abortion.”
  • Matt Hancock, the Health secretary, voted Remain in the June 2016 referendum on EU membership and would not leave without a deal. He promises to raise the national minimum wage to £10 ($12.70 U.S.) an hour and has advocated taxing internet retailers to “level the playing field.” However, he has campaigned as a pro-business candidate, profanely telling a gathering of supporters: “To those who say, 'F--- business,' I say, 'F--- f--- business.'”
  • Mark Harper, the former Chief Whip, voted Remain and said a future prime minister must delay Brexit beyond October 31, 2019, to strike a new deal with the EU.
  • Sajid Javid, became the Home secretary after leading three separate ministries: Housing, Business, and Culture. Javid voted Remain and has promised a technological solution to the Irish border. He promised to spend £100 billion to link the UK by rail. The son of a Pakistani bus driver, who would be the first Asian candidate for prime minister, said he would abandon May's pledge to reduce immigration to 100,000 a year.
  • Andrea Leadsom resigned as Leader of the House of Commons over Theresa May's failed Brexit policy. She campaigned to Leave the EU and has said, while she prefers to leave with a new deal, she will exit the EU by October 31 without a deal if necessary. Leadsom would make apprenticeships tuition-free.
  • Esther McVey, the former Work and Pensions secretary, has said the next prime minister must “actively embrace leaving the EU without a deal.” She supports tax cuts and slashing foreign aid. McVey came under fire for saying that parents should have the right to remove primary school-age children from government-mandated lessons teaching same-sex relationships and gender identity. “I believe parents know best for their children,” she said. “The parents need to have the final say.”
  • Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, is considered the hardest Brexiteers in the leadership race. Raab has said he would negotiate a better Brexit deal, but would leave the EU without a deal – and would consider proroguing (suspending) Parliament if it is necessary to assure a timely exit. He has opposed the “progressive authoritarianism” of EU institutions and promised “to protect churches and other religious institutions from being forced to conduct ceremonies that run counter to their faith.” Raab, whose Jewish father fled the Nazis, said he “will honor [his father's] memory by fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism and racism until my last breath.”
  • Rory Stewart, the International Development Secretary, voted Remain and has ruled out a no-deal Brexit. Stewart has warned the election of a “hard Brexiteer” could provoke the “splitting” of the nation. Stewart has expressed a romantic attachment to farm subsidies and promised to double the amount of foreign aid being spent on climate change. “The real lesson of the last 10 to 15 years is that poverty and climate are actually one and the same thing,” he has said.

Sam Gyimah, who supported a second referendum on Brexit, withdrew after he was unable to garner sufficient MP support.

The Conservative Party's 313 Members of Parliament will cast their first votes for the candidates on Thursday, June 13, at 1 p.m. London time. Any candidate not receiving at least 16 votes will be eliminated. Subsequent ballots may be held on June 18, 19, and 20; successful candidates will need at least 32 votes to advance.

When only two candidates remain, the 160,000 dues-paying members of the Conservative Party will vote to select the winner.

The prime minister will come to the helm of the UK at one of the most propitious moments in its history. A candidate committed to embracing economic dynamism, jettisoning Brussels' supranational regulatory regime, and securing the transatlantic alliance on the shared ground of Western Judeo-Christian tradition will lead the UK into a new era of prosperity. But another failed prime minister could lead to the ascent of an avowed socialist, or see the UK become merely another appendage of the EU's “ever-closer union.”

(Photo credit: Contains public sector information licensed under United Kingdom Open Government Licence v3.0.)


Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.