Tory leadership race under way as Boris Johnson confirms he will run to replace Theresa May

The Prime Minister agreed to meet with Tory grandees in three weeks to decide a timetable for the election of her successor

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The race to succeed Theresa May is under way in earnest after the prime minister bowed to pressure to quit before the summer and Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson declared his intention to replace her.

Ms May fended off demands for the immediate announcement of a date for her departure at a meeting of Tory grandees in Westminster.

But 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady left no doubt she had only weeks left in office, announcing that they will meet again in the first week of June to agree on a timetable for the election of her successor.

Sir Graham said the meeting would take place whether or not the PM secured parliamentary support for her Brexit deal at the fourth attempt.

The PM’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) is due before the Commons in the week of June 3. And her chances of finally seizing a Brexit deal to provide her legacy appeared to be receding.

Labour’s Keir Starmer told the Commons the party would oppose the bill unless a compromise agreement was reached – scotching earlier suggestions MPs might be whipped to abstain.

Mr Johnson confirmed his intention to stand for the leadership at a private event in Manchester, declaring that he had a “boundless appetite to try to get it right”.

In an on-stage interview with broadcaster Huw Edwards, he said: “I’m going to go for it. Of course I’m going to go for it. I don’t think that is any particular secret to anybody. But you know there is no vacancy at present.”

Although the former foreign secretary’s ambitions are the worst-kept secret in Westminster, his declaration pumped fire into a succession race which has so far seen only relative outsiders Andrea Leadsom, Rory Stewart and Esther McVey throw their hats into the ring.

Mr Johnson is a nailed-on favourite among grassroots Tories, but must first win the backing of MPs to get onto the shortlist of two candidates whose names will be on the ballot paper.

As the leader of the Leave campaign in 2016 who quit the cabinet last year over Ms May’s plans, he is likely to be fighting with former minister Dominic Raab for the votes of “clean Brexit” Tories.

In a swipe at Ms May’s handling of the EU withdrawal, he told his audience of insurance brokers that there had been “a real lack of grip and dynamism in the way we’ve approached these talks… We’ve failed over the past three years to put forward a convincing narrative about how we exploit the opportunities of Brexit.”

The executive of the 1922 Committee last month voted by the narrow margin of 9-7 to turn down calls for an MPs’ vote of no confidence in the prime minister to be brought forward to June 12.

When she met them for 90 minutes in her Commons office, the threat was implicit that this vote could be reversed if she refused to give ground on a departure date.

In a statement shortly afterwards, Sir Graham said the PM was determined to win the second reading Commons vote on WAB in the week of June 3, paving the way for the UK to leave the European Union by the summer.

“We have agreed that she and I will meet following the second reading of the bill to agree a timetable for the election of a new leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party,” he said.

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He later said the meeting would take place as soon as the second reading had occurred and will happen “regardless of ... whether it passes or whether it fails”.

A No 10 source acknowledged that if the bill was defeated, the pressure for Mrs May to go immediately would inevitably ratchet up.

“She would have to say ‘This is how I envisage the timetable for a leadership election happening and there would have to be some sort of agreement about that’,” the source said.

The outcome of the crunch meeting was greeted with scorn by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who said it was “gutless, useless and exactly what I expected”.

And Tory activist Dinah Glover, whose petition for the PM’s removal sparked a no-confidence motion for the June 15 Conservative National Convention, said the leadership contest should start straight away with Ms May standing down as soon as it is concluded.

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