Tuesday 11 June 2019 1:34 AM UTC
LONDON June 11: Indian-origin Conservative Party lawmaker Priti Patel, a vocal pro-Brexiteer who was among the candidates many expected to also contest, on Monday threw her support behind Boris Johnson instead.
Ms Patel’s decision came as the race for a new British Prime Minister to succeed Theresa May gathered pace on Monday, the deadline for all the candidates to file their nominations.
Mr Johnson, a former foreign secretary in the Theresa May Cabinet, is seen as a frontrunner to take over as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister.
Ms Patel, a former UK international development minister, said that she believes Mr Johnson is also the right candidate to strengthen Britain’s bond with countries like India.
“Boris Johnson will bring a spirit of optimism and the ability to lift our standing in the world by strengthening the living bridge between our two great nations,” said the 47-year-old Priti Patel.
“It is about time that we strengthen the political bonds between UK and India, following the recent decline. We must grow our bonds into a very special relationship built on centuries of diplomacy, trade and common values, and importantly, our people to people ties that continue to enrich our countries and our links,” she said.
Her intervention comes as Tory lawmakers on either side of the Brexit divide begin to pick the candidates they are backing in the prime ministerial race, which remains wide open with nearly a dozen hopefuls in the fray.
Their stand on Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) will be the defining factor, as Brexit was the issue that ultimately led to May being forced to announce her date for departure from Downing Street.
Ms May officially stepped down as the leader of the Conservative Party on Friday but remains as PM until her successor is chosen.
Each of those eyeing Downing Street are also trying to make a serious policy pitch in an attempt to sway as many Tory MPs as possible to vote in the first round of the ballot, which will whittle down the list to two candidates who will be put forward for a vote by the wider Conservative Party membership to choose a new leader in the coming weeks.
Mr Johnson, 54, so far the bookies’ favourite in the race, has pledged to cut income tax bills for people earning more than GBP 50,000 a year if he wins the race to succeed May as Prime Minister.
His pledge instantly attracted an Opposition backlash, with the Labour Party accusing the ruling Tories of being “out of touch” with public sentiment.
Pakistani-origin Sajid Javid is using his position as UK home secretary to pledge an improved visa offering for overseas students from countries like India after Brexit.
“I want to see more international students come to our country. If they’re coming here to study at our great universities, and if they want to work afterwards, we should make it easier for them to stay and work. We need a more positive attitude to this and I think the country would welcome it,” said Mr Javid.
Mr Javid has attracted the backing of the popular Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson as well as a few other prominent Tory MPs.
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has also made a serious pitch for leadership, relying on what he believes are his strong credentials as a negotiator.
He has some high-profile ministers in his camp, including work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd and Foreign Office Minister for Asia Mark Field.
UK environment secretary Michael Gove, one of 11 who have expressed plans to contest the leadership race, has faced calls to drop out after he admitted using cocaine several times more than 20 years ago.
However, he looks determined to carry on with his bid saying he is “undaunted” by criticism because he believes he can deliver Brexit.
Among some of the others who formally launched their leadership bids on Monday include UK health secretary Matt Hancock, who called for a “fresh start”, and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who unveiled proposals to redirect GBP 500 million a year from the UK’s aid budget to create an international wildlife fund to save endangered species and habitats.
International development minister Rory Stewart has been holding conversations with the public over the past few days as part of his strategy, with former ministers Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey among some of the other key contenders.
Whereas candidates in the past needed just two lawmakers supporting them, the Tory party’s influential 1922 Committee – which conducts the election process – decided to change the rules earlier this month in a bid to speed up the contest, requiring a minimum of eight MPs for each candidate.
After nominations close on Monday evening, all 313 Conservative lawmakers will vote for their preferred candidate in a series of ballots held on June 13, 18, 19 and 20 to narrow down the contenders one by one until only two are left.
Due to another rule change, candidates will need to win the votes of at least 16 other lawmakers in the first ballot and 32 colleagues in the second to proceed.
The final two will be put to the over 120,000 members of the wider Conservative Party in a vote from June 22, with the winner expected to be announced about four weeks later.
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