LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain has announced that she will step down as the Conservative Party leader on June 7, bringing into the open a party leadership struggle that has been underway on the sidelines for months.
But deep divisions within the party and the nation over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union proved fatal to Mrs. May’s leadership, and it is not clear that a successor would fare any better.
Anyone seeking the job first has to be nominated by two members of Parliament. If there is only one candidate, he or she automatically becomes the new leader. If there are more than two, lawmakers vote among themselves to narrow the field to two candidates, who then are put to a vote by the 120,000 mostly white, mostly aging Conservative Party members. The party said it expected to begin the nomination process in the week of June 10, after Mrs. May steps aside, and to complete the process by the end of July.
By Sunday, eight candidates had declared that they intended to run to succeed the prime minister. Others had yet to make a public declaration. Here are the potential successors seen as having the best chance to become head of the Conservative Party and, eventually, prime minister.
Mr. Johnson, 54, the former foreign secretary and one of the most outspoken critics of Mrs. May’s Brexit plan, is one of the most polarizing figures in British politics but seen by some hard-line Brexit supporters as a good choice.
He was a figurehead in the campaign to leave the European Union, and since the 2016 referendum has pushed for a hard split with the bloc. This stance regularly put him at odds with Mrs. May as she fought for a deal that would, supposedly temporarily, maintain relatively closer ties to Europe, and he regularly undermined her efforts to sell her deal to Parliament.
On Friday, that history seemed distant immediately after Mrs. May’s announcement. In a statement posted on Twitter, he thanked Mrs. May for her “stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party” and urged lawmakers to heed her call to deliver Brexit.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was quick to call him out as hypocritical.
Mr. Johnson first gained notoriety for his bombastic displays as mayor of London from 2008 to 2016, before returning to Parliament. He was one of the most prominent voices of the Leave campaign that urged Britain to vote for the country’s exit from the European Union, and since the 2016 referendum has advocated a hard split.
Mr. Johnson served as foreign secretary in Mrs. May’s cabinet, but resigned in 2018 in protest over her withdrawal strategy.
Like Mr. Johnson, Mr. Raab has long advocated a sharp severing of ties with Europe. At 45, he is seen by some in the party as a youthful face who could redefine the leadership role.
He served for a short time as Brexit secretary, becoming Mrs. May’s lead negotiator in the withdrawal process. But he resigned unexpectedly in 2018. At the time, he said he was unable to “reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made,” exposing a deep rift within Mrs. May’s cabinet.
Ms. Leadsom, 56, has put herself forward for the party leadership before — in May 2016, she went up against Mrs. May after Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down in 2016, after the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union.
She unexpectedly dropped out before the issue was put to a vote, after her chances were damaged by comments she made in an interview with The Times of London in which she suggested that she was a better candidate for the premiership because she is a mother, unlike Mrs. May.
This week, she resigned as the leader of the House of Commons, seemingly taking steps to distance herself from the failing leadership. She has been a vocal supporter of a clean break with the European Union.
Mr. Gove, 51, the environment secretary, formerly served as justice secretary and education secretary, and is seen by some as a front-runner for the leadership role.
Before the 2016 referendum, he campaigned for Britain’s exit, and he has largely backed the prime minister’s strategy during her time in office. He was vocal in his support for Mrs. May, and urged others within his party to support her deal in several iterations.
Mr. Gove proved an unlikely ally after he lost to Mrs. May in his bid to succeed Mr. Cameron. When Mr. Gove offered himself up as a reluctant candidate in that leadership race, he very clearly acknowledged what he called his “limitations.”
“Whatever charisma is, I don’t have it,” Mr. Gove said at the time. “Whatever glamour may be, I don’t think anyone could ever associate me with it.”
Mr. Hunt, 52, replaced Mr. Johnson as foreign secretary, having served as health secretary for the previous six years.
Like Mrs. May, Mr. Hunt voted for Britain to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum. But in the years since, Mr. Hunt has become a supporter of the decision to leave, citing the “arrogant” and “disappointing” tactics of the bloc’s negotiating team.
He was a vocal supporter of Mrs. May’s initial withdrawal deal, though on Thursday he withdrew his support for her “last chance deal” introduced this week. On Friday, he paid tribute to her service, calling her a “true public servant” in a tweet.
Mr. Javid, 49, the home secretary, once supported remaining in the European Union but has since thrown his support behind the efforts to leave.
The son of immigrants from Pakistan, Mr. Javid was a successful banker before turning to politics.
Mr. Javid has been positioning himself for a potential leadership role since early this year, making waves with the decision to strip the citizenship of Shamima Begum, the British teenager who traveled to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State. But some, including fellow Tory lawmakers, criticized him for the move, calling it opportunistic.
Mr. Lidington, 62, supported the campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union, and as Mrs. May’s de facto deputy is seen by some as her natural successor. When speculation arose last year about a possible coup within her cabinet, some tabloids pointed to Mr. Lidington as the most likely next in line.
But others believe his prospects are slim. He has long expressed admiration for Mrs. May and worked to rally support for her unpopular Brexit deal, but has said his position has given him a unique view of the difficult nature of the premiership.
“One thing that working closely with the prime minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task,” he told The Guardian.
Mr. Hancock, 40, the British health secretary, supported remaining in the European Union during the referendum on Brexit, and he has been a staunch opponent of a no-deal exit from the bloc.
Though he vowed when he entered the race on Saturday to deliver Brexit if he were to become the next prime minister, he said that his focus would be not just on Brexit, but also on free enterprise and a free society.
A graduate of Oxford, Mr. Hancock worked as an economist at the Bank of England and as chief of staff to the shadow chancellor of the Exchequer before becoming a lawmaker in 2010.
Damian Green, a former secretary of state, said in an article in The Sunday Times that only Mr. Hancock had the nous to heal Britain’s wounds.
Ms. McVey, 51, the former secretary of state for work and pensions, voted in 2016 in favor of leaving the European Union, and she has recently come out in support of a no-deal Brexit.
“The Withdrawal Agreement ship has sailed and needs to be put out of its misery,” she said in a post on Twitter on Sunday. “I will take the bold and positive new approach the country needs: leave the EU on October 31 with a clean break so we can all move on & rebuild a UK that works for everyone.”
She also said that she would increase school and police funding, while reducing foreign spending. “I’m standing on a blue-collar Conservative platform,” she said.
Ms. McVey previously come under fire for a controversial speech on the rise of food banks, and for voting against same-sex marriage.
Mr. Stewart, the secretary of state for international development, has been gaining ground as a measured, moderate conservative candidate, especially after a certain declaration on Saturday.
“I’m afraid I would not be able to serve in a Boris Johnson cabinet,” he told Sky News, on the basis that Mr. Johnson “will try to crash” Britain out of the European Union.
He followed this up with a Twitter post that was considered as a jibe against Mr. Johnson, the front-runner in the race to succeed Mrs. May.
Mr. Stewart, 46, was a Labour supporter in his teens, and served as a diplomat in the Middle East before entering Parliament in 2010. He was one of the more vocal supporters of Mrs. May’s compromise Brexit deal.
“I just think although people pretend they want a Brexit deal, it turns out that far too many Remainers simply do not want to accept the result of the referendum and far too many Brexiteers have convinced themselves that no deal is the sensible, practicable thing to do and I don’t think it is,” he told The Spectator last month.