Contenders line-up to replace Theresa May

Brexiteers and former Remain champions plot Conservative leadership takeover

In this Dec. 11, 2018 photo British Prime Minister Theresa May smiles in front of a Christmas tree when arriving for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the chancellery in Berlin. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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As British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a confidence vote on Wednesday it was no secret that a phalanx of rivals had lined-up bids of the top job.

Victory in the vote is unlikely to stop ambitious members of the cabinet and others from the backbenches positioning to run for the crown. Pundits have marked out Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab and Jeremy Hunt as the leading contenders at this stage of the battle.

The four divide neatly between two former Remain supporters and two that campaigned for Brexit.

The former Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, who resigned from the cabinet after Mrs May struck a deal on leaving the bloc, is likely to be the youngest potential candidate for leadership at 44.

The MP for Esher and Walton served just four month as Brexit secretary this year following the resignation of his predecessor David Davis. However, he too resigned in November in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit deal, saying it would be “even worse” than staying in the EU.

Liked by Eurosceptics in his party, Mr Raab is currently one of the favourites for the top job. Since his resignation, Mr Raab has avoided openly calling for a change of leadership. Although when asked at the weekend whether he would stand if Mrs May were to leave, he said he “wouldn’t rule it out”.

The second Brexiteer working on a bid is foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who has long been tipped for the top job but suffers from a chaotic personal life and political reputation for being untrustworthy. The leading leave campaigner in the 2016 referendum, Mr Johnson launched a run for leader when then prime minister David Cameron resigned, but was betrayed by his ally, Michael Gove, who stood instead. Mr Gove then failed to sustain his challenge against Mrs May.

Mr Johnson was given a place in Mrs May’s cabinet as foreign secretary, but quit in July this year in protest at her Brexit strategy.

The MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, 54, has spent the past few months openly criticising the prime minister.

He has consistently refused to deny that he will try to become leader when asked in recent interviews.

However, Mr Johnson is not popular among his fellow Conservative MPs, some of whom have said they would leave the party if he won.

From the current cabinet one of leading contenders is Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, but has since said he supports leaving the EU.

The first politician from a Muslim background to occupy one of the great offices of state, Mr Javid, 49, has publicly supported the prime minister’s Brexit deal.

The former investment bank is MP for a prosperous rural seat in the English midlands and was  promoted to the role following the resignation of Amber Rudd over the Windrush citizenship scandal.

He said on social media on Wednesday that a leadership election would be “self-indulgent” and gave Mrs May his full backing.

As a highly ambitious member of the cabinet, it is probable that he would throw his hat into the ring should she lose the no-confidence vote.

If chosen, he would become the first prime minister of the UK with parents who immigrated from Pakistan.

The second remainer-turned-Brexiteer who has a chance at the leadershiop is Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is seen as the man to rise to the top if a leadership crisis takes place without a contest.

Mr Hunt served as health secretary under successive Conservative governments, during which time he was heavily criticised by NHS workers and faced strikes by junior doctors.

His time at the Foreign Office following the resignation of Boris Johnson has been smoother, however, and he is rated highly by a number of his Conservative colleagues.

The son of an admiral and a successful businessman, Mr Hunt speaks several foreign languages and is married to a Chinese citizen. He too has given his backing to the prime minister.