In the UK, the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party and for the post of Prime Minister has now narrowed down to two candidates: right-wing favourite Boris Johnson, and the comparatively moderate Jeremy Hunt.
In a statement, the Conservative Party has announced that their next leader would be announced on July 23, after an internal ballot among party members decides the fate of the two hopefuls.
Conservative Party in the current UK Parliament
The Conservatives, also referred to as the ‘Tories’, are presently the single largest party in the British Parliament, and also effectively control the ruling coalition. Nevertheless, despite its numerical strength, there are serious divisions within the Tories regarding Brexit: Britain’s proposed exit from the European Union which was decided by a referendum in 2016.
Since the 2016 referendum, current PM Theresa May launched strenuous efforts at getting the Tories united in order to endorse her exit agreement with the EU– an enterprise that did not succeed, and caused May to announce her resignation as party chief on June 7, and from the PM post after the selection of the next party boss.
May’s departure triggered a leadership contest within the party, with several PM aspirants joining the fray to become the next PM. Subsequently, internal ballots among Tory parliamentarians reduced the arena to two leaders: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.
Now, 1.6 lakh Conservative Party members would choose their new leader: a first of its kind moment in British history where the PM would be decided by such a small fraction of the country’s population.
The two PM contenders
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt both come from wealthy backgrounds; both attended expensive private schools and then went on to study at Oxford. Johnson is a former Foreign Secretary (equivalent to foreign affairs minister), while Hunt holds the post currently. Johnson was also the mayor of London between 2008-16.
So far, Johnson appears to be the preferred choice of the party, having surged past Hunt in the previous ballot with 160 votes in his favour against 77 for Hunt. Johnson has also surpassed Hunt in amassing campaign finances from donors.
Johnson is a favourite of the ultra-right faction within the party. He has compared women wearing burqas to “letter boxes”, has called Africans “piccaninnies”, and has chastised former US President Barack Obama for having an “ancestral dislike” of Britain. In contrast, Hunt, who is also considered to be a part of the broader right wing, has shown greater restraint.
US President Donald Trump has expressed his admiration of Johnson, and in June told the British newspaper The Sun, “I think he would be excellent.”
Views on Brexit
During the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, Johnson was one of the most prominent campaigners for the ‘Leave’ side, and remains one of the most hard-line supporters of Brexit. Hunt, on the other hand, opposed Brexit during the referendum, but now supports it.
Both candidates are open to the idea of a ‘hard Brexit’, meaning leaving the EU without an agreement on October 31. Experts have warned that such a scenario would cause widespread confusion: disrupting supply chains between Britain and the EU, leaving British nationals residing in the EU in limbo, and reigniting a centuries-old conflict on the island of Ireland.
While both Johnson and Hunt agree that they would first seek to arrive at an agreement which is more suited to British interests than the one arrived at under May’s leadership, both have expressed their willingness to leave the EU without a deal if they cannot secure such a favourable bargain.