Theresa May Wins Round 1 Of Tory Leadership Ballot, Demands Early Talks On Britain Departure From EU

Moments ago, UK Home Secretary Theresa May largely as expected, topped the first ballot of Conservative members of Parliament in the contest to replace David Cameron as party leader and prime minister. Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox came last, meaning he is eliminated from the race. The votes cast for each candidate were as follows:

  • Theresa May: 165
  • Andrea Leadsom: 66
  • Michael Gove: 48
  • Stephen Crabb: 34
  • Liam Fox: 16

A BLoomberg adds, tory lawmakers will vote again on July 7 and July 12. Party members will then choose between the two remaining candidates in a postal vote, with the winner due to be announced by Sept. 9.

Why is this important? Because while some may assume that May ultimately winning the race for next UK leader and PM could result in some or all unwinding of Brexit, today the UK Standard reported that contrary to her prevailing image, Theresa May "squared up to Brussels boss Jean-Claude Juncker by demanding early talks on Britain’s exit from the European Union."

In an exclusive interview with the Evening Standard, the frontrunner to become Prime Minister showed a flash of steel by insisting on informal discussions first - something that the other 27 EU leaders have refused. “In the European negotiations I have been involved in, you often have preliminary talks before you actually reach the formal position,” pointed out Mrs May, adding: “This will be a point of discussion.”

Speaking to editor Sarah Sands, Mrs May set out a series of tough messages to Europe - and joked about her dour image. With Conservative MPs gathering for their first round in the ballot to choose David Cameron’s successor, the Home Secretary revealed: 

  • France will be warned that it would be against its interests to attempt to move the border from Calais to Dover, a move that threatens to increase the number of desperate migrants trying to cross the Channel.
  • A May government would keep David Cameron’s goal of slashing immigration in the long term to “tens of thousands”, a level she said was “sustainable”.
  • Talks to defend passporting rights allowing the City of London to trade freely in the EU would be a priority in Brexit negotiations.
  • Boris Johnson and Michael Gove might both serve in a unity Cabinet. She said: “I think it is hugely important as a party that we come together ... We are not Leavers or Remainers now, we are Conservatives in Government with a job to do.”

The Standard adds that May’s resolve to make major EU leaders sit down and discuss Britain’s exit terms in a “sensible” way comes a week after David Cameron was set home early from a summit in Brussels while the other 27 leaders talked about the impact of Brexit without him.

Juncker, the president of the Brussels commission, imposed a “presidential ban” to stop commissioners from talking to UK government officials until a formal two-year exit timetable is triggered by the British Prime Minister moving Article 50.  Juncker told MEPs he would not even allow informal talks before Article 50, saying: “There can be no preliminary discussions. “No notification, no negotiation. I don’t think we should condone shadow boxing or cat and mouse games.”

But May said: “I would hope that we would see that everybody recognises it is not just for the UK’s benefit but actually for the benefit of the EU that we have sensible discussions that are undertaken in a good spirit of willingness to get a deal that is right for us but also a sensible deal for the EU.

Responding to a threat by Alain Juppé, the frontrunner to win the French presidential election next year, to end the Le Touquet deal that allows Britain to maintain border controls in Calais, she was confident that she could persuade France to back off.

On the critical issue of immigration, May cautioned people not to expect immediate falls in numbers because there was no “silver bullet”. Asked what sort of levels would be sustainable, she said: “We’ve consistently said that sustainable level is the tens of thousands. But obviously this does take time and you’re dealing on the situation where regardless of the rules you put in place, there are other factors that come into play. We were getting net migration down – and then the economy started doing better than many other economies and we saw it going up again.” 

On the searing row over whether EU nationals will be allowed to stay in the UK after Brexit - which has seen critics accuse Mrs May of using them as a “bargaining chip” - the Home Secretary said she would only give a guarantee if British ex-pats in the EU were offered the same rights. All four of Mrs May’s rivals - Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Stephen Crabb - say they would guarantee residency the three million EU citizens in Britain.

Asked if she would give a Cabinet job to Boris Johnson, with whom she has clashed over his anti-riot water cannon and over Europe, she appeared to hint he could be allowed in her tent, saying: “I’m not speculating about individuals … other than that I would want to bring Leavers and Remainers together.” That said, she flatly ruled out any role for Ukip’s outgoing leader Nigel Farage:  “Absolutely not, no. There will be no deals with Ukip or anybody around Ukip.”

Then again, all of this is simply "politics" where as the FBI today showed, anything goes, and it would be perfectly acceptable for May to change her mind a few dozen times before Article 50 is (or isn't) finally implemented.