In Depth

What the next prime minister will inherit

Whether it be Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, the next PM faces an overflowing in-tray

Either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt will meet the Queen next Wednesday before entering Downing Street to become the UK’s new prime minister.

The two men are going head-to-head in a vote by Conservative Party members after seeing off 11 other hopefuls in their bids to replace Theresa May.

Whoever ultimately claims victory, Britain’s next leader will be confronted with an overflowing in-tray when they take over.

Here are some of the biggest issues they will inherit.

Brexit deadlock

Theresa May resigned because she was unable to break the Brexit deadlock in the House of Commons. Her EU withdrawal agreement was rejected by MPs three times, and a series of votes on the next steps for Brexit have laid bare the deep divisions cutting through traditional party allegiances.

MPs have been unable to agree on another way forward, be it a no-deal Brexit or second referendum, and this looks unlikely to change under a new PM.

Front-runner Johnson’s campaign team are said to be considering plans to send MPs home for up to two weeks before starting a new parliamentary session in early November, in order to prevent them from stopping a no-deal Brexit being pushed through by 31 October, reports Sky News.

But while the Tories might be “technically capable” of delivering a no-deal Brexit, they “may be institutionally incapable of turning it into a triumph”, says Sherelle Jacobs at The Daily Telegraph.

The new leader is “inheriting from Mrs May not so much a poisoned chalice as a double-edged sword marked ‘no deal’ and ‘Brexit in Name only’ at either end”, Jacobs says. “Whichever side of the blade the next PM uses to try and cut through the current limbo, in the course of the struggle they will probably have to fall on the other side of their sword.”

Tiny working majority

May’s failed gamble in calling a snap general election in 2017 only served to lose the ruling party its parliamentary majority, making it harder to take the UK out of the EU on time. And following the recall of Tory MP Chris Davies last month, the Conservatives risk losing another seat in the imminent Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.

“The loss would give the Tories a working majority of three, and at least two MPs, Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve, have said they would vote against their party if necessary in a confidence vote in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit,” says The Guardian.

The next PM will be expected to pass a Queen’s Speech, the autumn Budget and potentially a new confidence-and-supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who are likely to have strong demands about the Irish border in any deal with the EU, says the newspaper.

Several Tory MPs told the Guardian that given those considerable challenges, they had “huge concerns” about whether Johnson or Hunt would be able to avoid an autumn election.

A divided country

Like the Commons, the British public is “even more polarised than during the UK’s 2016 referendum campaign”, says the Financial Times.

The very definition of Brexit “continues to be a matter of bitter dispute”, says Chris Grey, professor of organisation studies at Royal Holloway, University of London.

“Mrs May’s main failure was that she did not try to build a consensus, difficult as that would have been, on a realistic way of doing Brexit until it was too late,” continues Grey, who says the debate has become “so toxic” that “any outcome will be regarded by some part of the electorate as a betrayal”.

Indeed, “neither of the main parties can expect traditional voters to return ‘home’ in an election”, says Rafael Behr in The Guardian. Identities of Leave and Remain can no longer “conveniently be carved up by the established red-blue duopoly, and that makes forming and sustaining a government a lot harder”, he continues.

As LBC’s political editor Theo Usherwood notes: “The last time a Conservative PM went to the country to secure a decisive majority it ended very badly. The calculation for Tory MPs is whether with Boris Johnson at the helm, the outcome would be markedly different.”

Ailing economy

The Resolution Foundation think-tank warned earlier this month that the UK is facing the highest risk of recession (defined as at least two successive negative quarters) since the financial crisis of 2008.

“The UK economy returned to growth in May after shrinking in April, but the news failed to allay fears of a future slowdown,” reports the BBC.

Economists have said June’s growth figures will need to be strong to avoid what would be the first time since 2012 that the UK has shrunk in the second quarter.

Those second-quarter figures, covering April to June, are due to be released on 9 August, just over a fortnight after the new PM takes office.

“The figures almost guarantee a weak first half of the year for the UK economy, requiring Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt to add ‘possible recession’ to the list of pressing concerns, whichever of them enters No. 10 as the new prime minister,” says the FT.

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