Brexit allies fall out in fierce battle to succeed Cameron


Brexit campaigner Michael Gove announced a surprise bid Thursday to become Britain’s next prime minister, in a blow for his close ally Boris Johnson’s chances, as turmoil gripped both the country’s main political parties after the shock vote to leave the EU.

The race for the leadership of the governing Conservative Party kicked off as impatient EU leaders were pressuring Britain to speed up its withdrawal from the bloc.

Justice minister Gove, who campaigned alongside Johnson in Britain’s momentous vote last week to leave the EU, said the former London mayor “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.

The announcement could boost the chances of Home Secretary Theresa May, a low-key supporter of remaining in the European Union who also announced her candidacy Thursday.

“Following last week’s referendum, our country needs strong, proven leadership to steer us through this period of economic and political uncertainty, and to negotiate the best possible terms as we leave the European Union,” she wrote in The Times newspaper.

Cameron announced his resignation within hours of last Thursday’s vote and said it should be up to his successor to launch exit negotiations with the EU.

A new leader is set to be voted in by Conservative Party members by September 9 at the latest but European leaders have pressed for a quicker timetable, warning against a prolonged period of uncertainty over Britain’s EU future.

Conservative members, who will eventually decide the winner, favour May by a margin of 37 percent to 27 percent, according to a YouGov poll published Thursday.

Challengers have until 1100 GMT to declare.

Work and pensions minister Stephen Crabb announced his candidacy Wednesday, while right-wing former defence minister Liam Fox is also expected to run.

– ‘Everything on the table’ –

The Brexit vote has sent the pound plunging and prompted economists to slash their growth forecasts for one of the world’s biggest economies.

US President Barack Obama warned Wednesday that Brexit raised “longer-term concerns about global growth”.

One of Singapore’s largest lenders, UOB, on Thursday said it had suspended its loan programme for London properties over the uncertainty.

However, London’s FTSE 100 has staged a strong recovery over the last 48 hours, closing higher on Wednesday than before the June 23 referendum.

The result has exposed deep divisions in the United Kingdom and triggered anger among those who wanted to remain in the EU, many of whom believe “Leave” voters were misled and that a second referendum is needed.

However, 58 percent of Britons believe the result should stand against 31 percent who think the vote should be re-run, according to a YouGov poll.

European leaders, keen not to encourage burgeoning anti-EU movements across the continent, have warned that Britain will not be able to pick and choose the cosiest terms of the divorce.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that Britain would have to accept free movement of people within the bloc if it wanted access to the free market, but French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told the BBC that “everything will be on the table” when negotiations begin.

– ‘Civil war’ –

Britain’s main opposition Labour party has also been thrown into turmoil by the vote, as lawmakers moved in its aftermath to oust left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn in a slow-motion revolt.

Senior lawmaker Angela Eagle is expected to announce Thursday a leadership challenge to Corbyn, who has refused to resign despite losing a confidence vote by MPs.

Corbyn, 67, has been criticised for making a lacklustre bid for Britain to remain in the EU and even insinuations from former allies that he harboured eurosceptic feelings himself.

At a rally at a London university on Wednesday, a heckler called out “What about Europe, Jeremy? Where were you when we needed you?” before being drowned out by booing.

Though Labour lawmakers passed a vote of no confidence against him by 172 to 40, Corbyn insists he still has the support of the party membership and will fight any leadership challenge he sees as a plot by the most right-wing elements of his party.

“The mandate was given by hundreds of thousands of ordinary people… I’m very proud to be carrying on with that work,” Corbyn told the cheering young activists who form his support base.

The ructions in both parties were splashed across Thursday’s front pages.

“Now it’s civil war” declared the Daily Mirror, a historically Labour-supporting newspaper, with a photograph of Corbyn.

“Boris: I want to be your PM,” said the eurosceptic Daily Express, while The Times said “May: I will reunite Britain”.