Sir Vince Cable has fired the starting gun on the Liberal Democrat leadership race after announcing he will stand down by the summer.
In a message to activists, the former business secretary said he would be “proud to hand over a bigger, stronger party” to a new leader on 23 July, with nominations closing on 7 June.
His announcement came within hours of Theresa May’s decision to resign, meaning two of the main Westminster parties will have new leaders by the summer recess.
In an email to members, Sir Vince said: “There are major challenges ahead. One is to win, finally, the battle to stop Brexit. Our campaigning has given hope; now we need to secure a referendum in Parliament, and then win it.
“Another is the opportunity created by the conflict and decay within the two main parties to build a powerful, liberal, green, and social democratic force in the centre ground of British politics. We are now in an excellent position to lead such a movement.
“As we do so, I am confident that we will regain ground at Westminster, with a big group of MPs and more influence on the national stage.”
Candidates to succeed Sir Vince have to secure the support of 10 per cent of the parliamentary party – effectively the backing of one MP – and then 200 members from at least 20 local parties.
Deputy leader Jo Swinson will be in the frame to replace Sir Vince, as well as home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey, both of whom served in the coalition government.
Ms Swinson was regarded as a likely prospect for the leadership when former leader Tim Farron resigned after the 2017 general election.
However the East Dunbartonshire MP decided not to run and Sir Vince was elected unopposed.
Education spokesperson Layla Moran, who was regarded as one of the party’s rising stars, ruled herself out of the contest earlier this month.
Sir Vince had originally pledged to quit after the local elections but he stayed on to steer the party through the unexpected European Parliament elections.
After years in the wilderness in punishment for their involvement in the coalition years, Sir Vince hailed a resurgence of support on the back of local elections in which they gained more than 700 councillors and 10 authorities.
A recent poll put the Lib Dems in second place for the European elections behind Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, with Labour in third place and the Tories slumped in fifth.
The Ipsos Mori survey put the Brexit Party on 35 per cent, the pro-Remain Lib Dems 20 per cent, Labour on 15 per cent, the Greens on 10 per cent and the Tories on 9 per cent.
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