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Seven up - Contest to replace May as British prime minister gets crowded

British health minister Matt Hancock and ex-Brexit minister Dominic Raab joined an increasingly crowded field to replace May.

FILE: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: AFP

LONDON - The contest to replace Theresa May as British prime minister hotted up on Saturday with seven candidates now throwing their hat into the ring, saying they would succeed where she failed by taking a deeply-divided Britain out of the European Union.

May announced on Friday she was quitting over her failure to deliver Brexit, raising the prospect of a new leader who could seek a more divisive split with the EU and lead to confrontation with the bloc or a possible parliamentary election.

British health minister Matt Hancock, ex-Brexit minister Dominic Raab and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom on Saturday joined an increasingly crowded field to replace May.

Former foreign minister Boris Johnson, current foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart and former work and pensions minister Esther McVey had already announced they would stand.

About a dozen contenders in total are thought to be considering a tilt at the leadership with newspapers reporting that environment minister Michael Gove was expected to announce his candidacy on Sunday.

May failed three times to get a divorce deal she agreed with the EU through parliament because of deep, long-term divisions in the Conservative Party over Europe. It meant the original Brexit date of March 29 has been extended until Oct. 31 to see if any compromise could be reached.

All those standing say they could build a consensus or amend May’s deal, although the EU has said it would not renegotiate the treaty.

“We have to propose a deal that will get through this parliament,” Hancock told BBC radio. “We have to be brutally honest about the trade-offs.”

Raab, a leading figure among pro-Brexit Conservatives, said he did not want to exit without a deal, but would do so if the EU refused to budge, a stance echoed by Leadsom, who quit the government on Wednesday over May’s deal.

“To succeed in a negotiation you have to be prepared to walk away,” Leadsom, who made it to the last two in the 2016 contest to replace David Cameron as prime minister following the EU referendum, told the Sunday Times newspaper.

Brexit is set to dominate the contest which will begin in the week of June 10 when Conservative lawmakers begin to whittle down the field before party members, about 160,000 according to the Sunday Telegraph, choose the winner from the final two candidates.

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