How does a Tory leadership election work? Rules for dramatic contest explained


Tory MPs could hold a full-blown leadership contest before the summer holiday after Theresa May sets out her timetable to quit.

The Prime Minister is set to meet MPs’ shop steward, Sir Graham Brady, in the week of June 3 to finally agree when she will step down as Tory leader.

It comes after months of mounting rage in the Conservative Party about Mrs May’s decision to delay Brexit to October 31.

Tory MPs were also left furious at her decision to enter compromise talks with Labour, which ran for six weeks without reaching a deal.

Even before she agreed to go, MPs from Boris Johnson to Amber Rudd were jostling for position to take the top job.

So when she finally does go, how will the process to replace her actually work? Here’s a handy guide.


When will she go?

Theresa May wants the first stage of Brexit sorted before she goes

The Prime Minister has not set a date for her departure.

But allies of the PM and Cabinet ministers increasingly believe she will go before MPs’ summer holiday at the end of July 2019.

At first, Mrs May told Tory MPs she would quit after her Brexit deal passes – and refuse to quit until it does.

But with the PM facing a no confidence vote (non-binding) by grassroots Tories on June 15, there was clamour for her to go no matter what.

The 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers was also mulling a rule change that could force her out against her will.

Current rules say she can only face a leadership challenge in December 2019, one year after she survived the last one.

MPs had discussed shortening that grace period to six months.

So Mrs May agreed to return to MPs and agree a timetable for her departure after a last-ditch vote on her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

The Bill was due to be heard before the Commons in the week of June 3.


How does a challenge to her leadership work?

MPs can write to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady

If she doesn’t go voluntarily, Tory MPs can challenge Theresa May’s leadership.

To do this, at least 15% of Tory MPs – 47 of them – must send a letter of no confidence in her to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.

When the number of letters hits 47, he announces a no confidence vote – but not a full leadership contest – is under way.

To trigger a full contest with rival candidates, more than half of Tory MPs (157 of them) have to vote out the PM.

Under current rules these votes are only allowed once per year. Because Theresa May survived such a vote in December 2018, another vote is not allowed until December 2019.

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UK Politics explained

How does a Tory leadership contest work?

Boris Johnson will be one of the many, many people standing

Under the rules of a Tory leadership race, candidates bidding for the crown must be nominated by just two fellow Conservative MPs.

If there are more than two hopefuls for the party reins (which there certainly will be), a series of ballots is held.

Those rounds of votes are traditionally held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, meaning it could take a few weeks to whittle down if there are a whole string of candidates.

The MP receiving the fewest votes is knocked out in each round until only two remain.

They go to a run-off of the wider Conservative Party, with its estimated 124,000 members eligible to vote.

The candidate who wins the most votes becomes the leader.

Does the winner become Prime Minister?

He wants a general election

Yes, because the Tories are already in government.

There is only a general election if the new Prime Minister decides to hold one, or there is a no confidence vote *in the government*. Which confusingly is a completely different thing.

MPs can oust the Prime Minister by voting no confidence in “Her Majesty’s Government” by a simple majority (half of MPs from all parties).

If that happens, convention suggests she must resign and nominate a new PM.

That PM has 14 days to win enough support. If they can’t, the new PM must then hold a general election.

MPs could also vote directly to hold a general election. This vote, however, would have to pass with a two-thirds majority of all MPs.

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