The Conservative party has rejected an appeal by MPs to speed up the leadership contest so Britain does not have to wait until September for a new prime minister.
More than 40 MPs backed a proposal by former party co-chairman Grant Shapps to truncate the contest on the grounds that this would help end the economic uncertainty generated by the vote to leave the European Union.
But a party spokesman said on Friday that the timetable had been set out and was “not going to change”. This means Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom – the two remaining candidates after three others were eliminated in two rounds of voting by MPs – have nine weeks to win a majority of support among the 150,000-strong party membership, who will have the final vote.
The winner is to be announced on Friday 9 September, and is expected to then replace David Cameron as prime minister almost immediately.
Most of the Tory MPs who backed the Shapps letter were May supporters, and it is thought a short contest would have been in her favour because, after six years as home secretary, she has a far higher profile than Leadsom, who is energy minister and who only became an MP in 2010.
May’s camp said she was not behind the letter, and May herself has said she wants “a proper contest”. Leadsom was also opposed to a shorter campaign, a source close to her said, because she thought it would be “a fantastic opportunity for real engagement with the party” and anything less than nine weeks would be too short.
Conservative HQ has not elaborated on why the contest needs to run up to the second weekend in September, but there has been speculation that this timetable was chosen because Cameron wants to attend the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China, on 4 and 5 September.
After the second ballot of Tory MPs on Thursday, in which May received 199 votes and Leadsom 84, the two rivals were keeping a low profile.
Now that Leadsom has made the shortlist she is committed to keeping her promise to publish details of her tax returns. A source said this information, which Leadsom has claimed will be “really quite boring”, could come next week.
Her tax affairs have already generated interest because in the past her family has used legal methods of minimising her tax liabilities. When asked on the BBC 1’s the Andrew Marr Show if she would publish her tax returns, Leadsom seemed caught off guard but agreed to disclose the information.
On Friday, May received a strong endorsement from her cabinet colleague Michael Fallon, the defence secretary. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: “I think at this point she has the experience, the track record, to take this country forward now, to stabilise the economy.
“I’ve seen her deal with crisis, I’ve seen her chair the Cobra emergency committee, I’ve seen her handle these things, and she’s absolutely committed, above all, to keeping this country safe.”
This article was written by Andrew Sparrow, for theguardian.com on Friday 8th July 2016 13.09 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010