LONDON Boris Johnson on Tuesday won the Conservative Party’s leadership race to become the next Prime Minister of Britain, amid the political uncertainty over the country’s divorce deal with the European Union.
Johnson, the former foreign secretary and London Mayor, was widely expected to beat foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in the battle for 10 Downing Street, which was triggered last month when a Brexit-battered Theresa May resigned amid a mounting rebellion from within the Conservative Party.
Addressing the Tory party members at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, near the Houses of Parliament, soon after the results were declared, Johnson, 55, said: “No one person or party has the monopoly of wisdom. Time and again it is to us [Conservative Party] that people have turned.
“At this pivotal point in history… I know that we will do it. The mantra is deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat (Labour leader) Jeremy Corbyn.
“I will work flat out to repay your confidence. The work begins now.”
The co-chair of the Tory party’s 1922 Committee Cheryl Gillan MP opened the envelope to declare that Johnson won 92,153 votes compared to 46,656 polled for Hunt by a voting base of 159,320 Tory membership, with 509 rejected ballots. The poll turnout was pegged at 87.4 per cent, with Boris Johnson racing ahead with a vote of nearly two to one.
Johnson has been the frontrunner in the race ever since a group of Tory MPs put their hat in the ring for the first phase of the leadership election within the Conservative parliamentary party.
The flambouyant politician, however, is not set to take formal charge until Wednesday, once May has been driven up to Buckingham Palace to tender her resignation to Queen Elizabeth II.
The new Prime Minister is expected to spend some time finalising his key Cabinet and ministerial posts soon after the results. A number of Brexiteers, including Indian-origin MPs Priti Patel and Rishi Sunak both supporters of Johnson, are expected to be part of his new team.
“With Boris Johnson leading the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister, the UK, will have a leader who believes in Britain, will implement a new vision for the future of the country and a roadmap to move forward and thrive as a self-governing nation that re-establishes our ties with our friends and allies around the world such as India,” said Patel, in reference to the leadership contest results.
Both Johnson and Hunt had made special interventions to reach out to the party’s Indian diaspora base, with Hunt pledging to engage with India to negotiate a free trade agreement post-Brexit and Johnson promising a new and improved trading relationship with India if he is elected.
The former Mayor of London, who has in the past described himself as a “son-in-law of India” by virtue of his now estranged wife Marina Wheeler’s Indian mother, also played up a strong personal relationship with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi .
The vote to choose between the two final candidates with the most backing went head-to-head before the wider Conservative Party membership up and down the country. The Tory membership base, estimated to be around 160,000, had until Monday night to get their postal ballots in to the party’s influential 1922 Committee in charge of the poll process.
Hunt, 52, had pegged himself as the underdog in the race who, as an entrepreneur himself, had the negotiating skills required to lead the Tories through the tough phase ahead of meeting the October 31 deadline for Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU).
The two contenders clashed in a number of hustings around the UK, with Johnson’s refusal to take the prospect of a chaotic no-deal Brexit off the table exposing the divisions within the Tory party even further.
Many Cabinet ministers, including Chancellor Philip Hammond and justice secretary David Gauke, have already said they would step down rather than serve under Johnson as PM with his “do or die” pledge over the Brexit deadline.
Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan became one of the first to step down in opposition of Johnson’s Brexit strategy even before the results were declared. Another minister, Anne Milton in the education department, also sent in her resignation to May ahead of the result over similar concerns.
Johnson’s colourful personal life has also been under some scrutiny during the month-long leadership contest, with speculation rife in the UK media on whether his girlfriend Carrie Symonds is likely to join him as partner at 10 Downing Street.
May, who chaired her last Cabinet meeting on Tuesday at Downing Street, will address her final Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday and then be driven to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.
The 93-year-old monarch will then invite the new PM-elect to form a government, following which he will make his first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street on Wednesday evening.
The new PM will chair his first Cabinet meeting a day after, on Thursday morning, before the UK Parliament is set to rise for its summer recess until early September.