The race for the keys to 10 Downing Street started in earnest Tuesday with a war of words between some of the contenders to replace Theresa May as prime minister.
May has announced her resignation as leader of the governing Conservative Party on June 7, with the process to choose her successor beginning three days later.
The party leader will automatically become Prime Minister while the Conservatives are the governing party.
Before the start button is even pressed, 10 politicians, most of them members of May’s cabinet of ministers, have announced they will be standing. Housing Minister Kit Malthouse became the latest politician to join the race Tuesday.
The fate of Brexit, Britain’s plans to leave the European Union (EU), are already at the heart of early campaigning.
Britain is scheduled to end its membership of the bloc on Oct. 31, more than three years after people voted in a referendum to leave the EU.
Some challengers are warning a no-deal Brexit — with Britain leaving without a future trading deal with the EU, could destroy the Conservative Party.
Others want Britain to return to Brussels to renegotiate a deal, even though the EU has so far refused to make changes to the draft agreement already on the table.
The bookies favorite to win, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, has already expressed he is willing to crash out of the bloc with no deal if Britain and the EU fail to agree an accord on a future relationship.
Media reports in London said Johnson supporters have launched a campaign to ensure he is one of the two contenders to make the final list that will be put to more than 140,000 grassroots party members across the country.
Johnson’s successor as foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is also a contender, said Tuesday that a policy of seeking to take Britain out of the EU without a deal would be political suicide.
Hunt has called for a statesmanlike and robust approach to trying to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, despite the insistence that re-opening the deal already agreed by the EU council is not up for re-negotiation.
The London Evening Standard said Hunt and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart have torn into the hardline approach being pursued by Johnson and other leadership contenders, former ministers Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey.
In an interview with the Standard, Stewart attacked the no-deal Brexiteers for “Wizard of Oz” thinking.
McVey responded to the attack on her social media site, saying: “Political suicide actually lies in not having a clean break from the EU and not leaving on Oct. 31.”
Raab, who resigned earlier this year as Brexit Secretary, set out his leadership campaign, saying he would get a fairer Brexit deal, and cut taxes. He cited his experience as an international lawyer, family man and karate champion to win support from Conservative members.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, a leading British political expert warned that the break-up of the United Kingdom will come closer to happening if Johnson wins the race to be next prime minister.
Professor Anthony Glees from Britain’s University of Buckingham, said: “If Johnson drives a no-deal agenda he’ll either have to stage a coup d’etat against the current parliament which has voted against a no-deal, or delay Britain’s departure from the European Union for 12 months to prepare or try to win a general election.”
“The polls suggest he’d lose. I suspect Johnson might think he could win a general election. I just don’t think he would get no deal through without a majority in Parliament.”
The Daily Telegraph reported Tuesday that Downing Street may shelve the three-times defeated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement put forward by May.
The bill, which would enshrine the Brexit deal in British law, had been due to be published early June, but May’s resignation announcement is prompting a rethink.
May’s official spokesman is quoted in the Telegraph saying: “We now have to reflect on the fact that we are in a different position.”