July 22, 2019 2:47 pm
Updated: July 22, 2019 9:47 pm

Britain is about to get a new prime minister — what that means for Brexit

WATCH: Theresa May's legacy as British prime minister


Britain is set for a change in leadership, as Prime Minister Theresa May officially steps down this week.

There are two contenders to lead the governing Conservative Party — Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.

The position is expected to be taken by Johnson, a former minister, journalist and mayor of London. The winner of the contest to lead the Tories will be announced Tuesday; he will become prime minister the following day.

Here’s what to know about the change-up — and how it will affect the country’s attempts at leaving the European Union.

WATCH: Why Britain’s EU divorce became so difficult 

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A new prime minister (but no election)

Britain’s next prime minister will govern a nation of 66 million people — but only 0.25 per cent of them had a say in the choice.

There are 650 members of Parliament in the U.K., and like Canada, parties are entitled to change leaders without going back to the voting public.

May announced her resignation last month, triggering a leadership contest in which any of the 313 Conservative legislators was eligible to run. The initial field of 10 candidates was then winnowed down to two in elimination votes by Tory lawmakers.

The final two, Hunt and Johnson, went to a runoff decided in a postal ballot of about 160,000 Conservative members across the country. To be eligible to vote, they need to have paid a 25-pound membership fee and been in the party for at least three months.

READ MORE: U.K. prime minister run narrows down to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

The country’s leadership choice is largely in the hands of comfortably off, older white men.

According to a U.K. academic study, 70 per cent of Conservative members are men, half of them over 55; 86 per cent are middle class or above and 97 per cent are white — in a country where 10 to 15 per cent of the population belongs to an ethnic minority.

More about Johnson and Hunt

Johnson is widely expected to become the next leader.

Hunt, who is currently the foreign secretary, has held several high-ranking positions in government, beginning from the time of former prime minister David Cameron.

While Johnson is expected to win, he has faced criticism for avoiding media appearances and debates.

READ MORE: UK finance minister to quit if Johnson becomes PM

Both Johnson and Hunt campaigned on a promise to take Britain out of the EU — regardless of whether there is a deal or no deal.

Johnson said he will make sure Britain leaves the 28-nation bloc, “do or die,” by the Oct. 31 deadline.

That stance has made many uncomfortable, including in his own party. On Sunday, Finance Minister Philip Hammond said he would resign if Johnson becomes prime minister because he felt unable to support a leader happy to take the country out of the EU without a deal.

Hunt has taken a less open approach to leaving without a deal, describing it as more of a worst-case scenario. He released a Brexit plan, with measures such as creating a “no-deal” cabinet task force to help cope with the possibility.

WATCH: Is Boris Johnson Britain’s Donald Trump?

What a change in power means for Brexit

The deadline for the country to leave the EU is Oct. 31, and as it currently stands, that has to happen with or without a withdrawal agreement.

After several attempts by May to have her deal approved by Parliament, the U.K. is approaching a scenario where it leaves the EU without a framework for a new relationship.

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said Monday the commission is ready to establish working relations with “any new prime minister of the United Kingdom.” The commission reiterated it was ready to “engage with the member states that would be most affected” by any no-deal Brexit.

The EU executive arm in Brussels is also looking at what programs could be used for such emergency support.

Ireland and the backstop

The bloc has said Ireland is among those that can count on its help, from financial support for the fishing industry to assistance from the EU’s pool of experts on customs and borders.

READ MORE: U.K. minister warns leadership rivals of no-deal Brexit consequences

That contingency planning covers a scenario in which “the U.K. also fails to pay what is envisaged” under the current EU budget, of which Britain is part, Bertaud told a regular news briefing.

Ireland is facing pressure from the other EU states to prepare the sensitive border on the island for checks necessary after Brexit.

WATCH: Hunt says no Brexit deal possible with Irish backstop still in place

The problem for the next prime minister is that the withdrawal agreement contains the most contentious part of the exit deal — an insurance policy to prevent border controls between EU member Ireland and British province of Northern Ireland.

Hunt and Johnson want to ditch the so-called backstop; the EU says it has to stay.

Without agreement on that issue, the country is likely to leave without a deal.

— With files from the Associated Press, Reuters

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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