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The U.K. After May


Now that Theresa May has announced her resignation, who will be Britain's next prime minister? And will she or he be able to negotiate a Brexit deal or even want to? Let's put that to Sebastian Payne, lead political writer for the Financial Times. He joins us from London.

Thanks so much for being with us.

SEBASTIAN PAYNE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Almost as many Conservatives running for party leadership as Democrats for the presidential nomination here, we kind of have to begin that list with Boris Johnson, don't we?

PAYNE: Yes, he is the favorite to succeed Theresa May. This contest doesn't formally begin for another two weeks here because President Trump is visiting the U.K. very shortly. And when Theresa May does resign, she's going to resign as leader of the Conservative Party but not as prime minister. So she will still be running the country for the foreseeable future. But on the 7 of June, that's when the contest begins. And there's a tradition in Conservative leadership contests that the front-runner doesn't normally emerge the successor. But in this case, Boris Johnson, who is foreign secretary and a lead advocate of leaving the EU, is by far and away the favorite to win this contest. He's liked by Conservative MPs for his bonhomie, for his humor and for his passion for Brexit. But a lot of other people find him a very divisive character. And that may prove problematic when more contenders emerge and the contest really gets underway.

SIMON: I want to follow up in no particular order about some other names if we could. Amber Rudd, for example, the Work and Pensions secretary, she was on and is on the remain side, as I understand it.

PAYNE: She is. And Ms. Rudd is not a hugely popular figure within some parts of the Conservative Party. But she has announced she will not be running for the leadership. But she will be endorsing somebody else. And there's a lot of speculation in London that she will actually end up endorsing Mr. Johnson to become his chancellor and de facto deputy prime minister and this so-called dream ticket will be known as the Bamber ticket.

For Mr. Johnson and Ms. Rudd to run together, it would seem a bit odd. You know, some Conservative MPs have said to me would resemble two ends of a pantomime horse with the remain Ms. Rudd pulling in one direction and the Brexit Mr. Johnson pulling in another. And what it speaks to is how divided the party is. And whoever comes next after Mrs. May is going to face the exact same challenges and the exact same trade-offs about the U.K.'s position.

SIMON: A name that is certainly well known, or has been in the United States, is Rory Stewart, the international development secretary - former soldier, adventurer, walked across to Afghanistan.

PAYNE: Indeed, Rory has recently been promoted to the Cabinet as international development secretary where he is responsible for the U.K.'s overseas aid program. He is going to run for the leadership, but, again, Mr. Stewart was a remain supporter. And I think what the past three years of Mrs. May's premiership have told us is having a remain supporter trying to deliver Brexit creates a lot of trust issues and authority issues within the party. And that's why folks like Amber Rudd, who are remainers, have now acknowledged the next leader probably needs to be a Brexit supporter. So although Mr. Stewart has a great story, a very intelligent man, I can't see him getting very far in this race.

SIMON: Sebastian Payne, political writer for the Financial Times, thanks so much for being with us.

PAYNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.