British PM May expected to announce date of her departure

Elizabeth Piper and Guy Faulconbridge, Reuters

Posted at May 24 2019 03:38 PM

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after giving a news briefing in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2019. Toby Melville, Reuters

LONDON -- British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected on Friday to announce the date of her departure, triggering a contest that will bring a new leader to power who is likely to push for a more decisive Brexit divorce deal.

After a crisis-riven premiership of almost three years, May is due to meet the chairman of the powerful Conservative 1922 Committee, which can make or break prime ministers, to set out a timetable for her departure.

Ministers expect May to make a statement by mid-morning.

"The 1922 Committee are coming in with a revolver and basically pointing it at her head," said Gus O'Donnell, Britain's top civil servant from 2005 to 2011. "He (Brady) will leave the room and possibly leave the revolver in there."

May, once a reluctant supporter of EU membership, who won the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit vote, steps down with her central pledges - to lead the United Kingdom out of the bloc and heal its divisions - unfulfilled.

She endured repeated crises and humiliation in her effort to find a compromise Brexit deal that parliament could ratify, and bequeaths a deeply divided country and a political elite that is deadlocked over how, when or whether to leave the EU.

The treasurer of the 1922 Committee, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, said he expected May would stay on as a caretaker prime minister while a successor was chosen.

"It would be much tidier if she stays on as caretaker while we go through our processes of electing a leader of the Conservative Party who will then eventually take over as prime minister," Clifton-Brown told the BBC.

PM BORIS JOHNSON?

The leadership election is likely to last about six weeks, starting on June 10, after US President Donald Trump's state visit to Britain.

May's departure will deepen the Brexit crisis as a new leader is likely to want a more decisive split, raising the chances of a confrontation with the European Union and a snap parliamentary election.

The leading contenders to succeed May all want a tougher divorce deal, although the EU has said it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Treaty it sealed in November.

Boris Johnson, the face of the official Brexit campaign in 2016, is the favorite to succeed May. Betting markets put a 40 percent implied probability on Johnson winning the top job.

Others tipped by betting markets are Dominic Raab, a Brexit supporter and former Brexit secretary. Betting markets put a 14 percent implied probability on his chances.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove, former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt each have a 7 percent probability, according to betting markets.

Betting markets give Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart each a 4 percent chance of the top job while Home Secretary (interior minister) Sajid Javid has a 3 percent chance.