Tory Leadership Candidates: Who's Who In The Contest To Be Prime Minister

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove lead the pack of seven contenders. Here's where they all stand on Brexit, the NHS and other key issues.
Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Rory Stewart are four of the remaining seven. Esther McVey was eliminated after the first round of voting.
Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Rory Stewart are four of the remaining seven. Esther McVey was eliminated after the first round of voting.
HuffPost UK

With a new Conservative Party leader set to grace the corridors of Number 10 by the end of July, the race to replace Theresa May is well underway.

Starting off with a whopping 13 contenders, the contest has now been thinned down to seven Tory MPs – Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart.

It comes after Mark Harper, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom all failed to generate enough support from Conservative MPs, leading them to be eliminated during the first round of voting.

Three other candidates – Brexit minister James Cleverly, housing minister Kit Malthouse and Sam Gyimah –– dropped out earlier in the race.

But who really are the remaining contenders – and what do they stand for? If you’re struggling to keep up with their election promises (or even just all of their names) never fear – here is HuffPost UK’s bitesize guide to everyone running.


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AGE: 51


ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Education secretary (2010 - 2014), chief whip (2014 - 2015), lord chancellor and justice secretary (2015 - 2016), environment secretary (2017 - present)

BREXIT STANCE: Gove was a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign ahead of the 2016 EU referendum. However, unlike some of his Brexiteer colleagues, the environment secretary is reportedly willing to delay the UK’s exit date until late 2020 rather than crash out without a deal in October. According to The Telegraph, Gove believes a no-deal Brexit would hand the keys to Number 10 directly to Jeremy Corbyn.

NHS: Back in December, Gove paid tribute to NHS staff for treating his teenage son after he crashed through plate-glass windows. He’s not yet set out his plans for the NHS if he becomes the next PM.

EQUALITY ISSUES Gove has repeatedly voted in favour of LGBT+ rights. Giving a speech in favour of gay marriage in 2013, he said that marriage was not “undermined” by extending it to gay people – “it is reinforced by including everyone equally”.

However, Gove came under fire in 2017 after comparing an interview with Radio 4’s programme to “going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom”. “You just pray that you emerge with your dignity intact,” he said. Gove later apologised.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? Let’s ignore his recent confession that he took cocaine many years ago for a moment, as we’re trying to give you a broader sense of policy here. It’s fair to say that Gove wasn’t the most popular education secretary among teachers. His overhaul of the curriculum – including removing some classic American authors from reading lists – and his campaign to turn secondary schools in academies were blamed in part for teacher strikes during his time in charge of education. Two prominent teaching unions passed votes of no-confidence in him.


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AGE: 40


ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Digital, culture, media and sport secretary (2018 - 2018), health secretary (2018 - present)

BREXIT STANCE: The Cabinet minister backed Theresa May’s Brexit deal in all three votes on the legislation. Now, in contrast to Brexit hardliners like Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, Hancock has said the option of no-deal “is not a policy choice available to the next prime minister”.

NHS Taking over as health secretary from Jeremy Hunt in 2018, Hancock announced the £20-billion-a-year cash boost for the NHS alongside Theresa May to mark the health service’s 70th anniversary. Meanwhile, the former digital secretary has made it his mission to modernise the NHS, banning pagers and fax machines from hospitals.

He also came out swinging in response to Donald Trump’s suggestion the NHS was “on the table” in post-Brexit negotiations, saying “not on my watch”.

EQUALITY ISSUES: Hancock has regularly voted to strengthen LGBT rights, including backing gay marriage in 2013.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? Hancock was accused of breaking the ministerial code after he endorsed the private healthcare company Babylon in a paid-for newspaper supplement in the Evening Standard.


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AGE: 52

CONSTITUENCY: South West Surrey

ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Culture, media and sport secretary (2010 - 2012), health secretary 2012 - 2018), foreign secretary (2018 - present)

BREXIT STANCE: Despite voting Remain in 2016 and insisting he would prefer to leave with an agreement , Hunt has said that “with a heavy heart” he would pull the UK out of the EU without a deal “as a last resort”.

NHS: With more than five years in office, Hunt remains the UK’s longest-standing health secretary and was seen as a key figure in the campaign to secure a funding boost to mark the NHS’ 70th birthday. However, his time as custodian of the health service was packed with controversy – including the first all-out strike by doctors and a series of winter crises.

EQUALITY ISSUES: Hunt has repeatedly voted in favour of LGBT rights. However, he came under fire after he praised the courage of Labour MP Lloyd Russel-Lloyd for revealing he is HIV positive.

“Ta for the warm words, but bit rich after you gutted £600 million from public health NHS spend,” Russell-Moyle tweeted. “Men are contracting HIV as the gov is blocking full PrEP in England.”

PrEP is a drug taken by HIV-negative people before sex to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. At the moment, it is only available in England as part of a trial.

Meanwhile, Hunt angered many when he revealed he believes the legal abortion limit should be reduced from 24 weeks to 12 weeks – but said he would not seek to change the law if he became PM.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? By far, the biggest controversy Hunt has been caught up in during his time in government was the junior doctors’ strike. Proposed changes to doctors’ contracts – including what constituted ‘unsociable hours’ – saw the first all-out NHS strike, with four in five junior doctors thought to have participated in the first day of walkouts.


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FULL NAME: Sajid Javid

AGE: 49


ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Culture, media and sport secretary (2014 - 2015), business secretary (2015 - 2016), communities secretary (2016 - 2018), home secretary (2018 - present)

BREXIT STANCE: Javid has made it clear that he wants the UK to leave the EU on October 31 – preferably with a deal. However, he told Andrew Marr: “If I have to choose between no deal and no Brexit I would pick no Brexit.”

NHS: ‘The Saj’ has yet to say much on the NHS during the leadership race.

EQUALITY ISSUES: Back in 2013, Javid voted in favour of allowing same-sex couples to get married.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? Javid was accused of “human fly-tipping” after he revoked the British citizenship of Shamima Begum, a 19-year-old who fled to Syria as a schoolgirl to join ISIS. Campaigners argue that the decision has effectively left Begum stateless, which is banned under international law. While her family are from Bangladesh, the teenager has never visited the country.


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AGE: 54

CONSTITUENCY: Uxbridge and South Ruislip

ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Mayor of London (2008 - 2016), foreign secretary (2016 - 2018)

BREXIT STANCE: As one of Vote Leave’s most prominent campaigners during the EU referendum campaign, BoJo is *extremely* pro-Brexit. Having resigned as foreign secretary over Theresa May’s Brexit deal, Johnson has already vowed that he would take the UK out of the EU “deal or no-deal” by Halloween if he was leader.

NHS: Boris recently used his weekly column in The Telegraph to pen a love letter to the UK’s most-prized institution – the NHS. Emotionally recalling a visit to a mental health unit in his constituency, he urged the government not to waste the £20 billion cash injection for the health service May announced last summer.

Unfortunately for Johnson, the only story most people will remember about him and the NHS is the time he claimed on the side of a bus the health service would get an extra £350 million a week if the UK left the EU. He is now set to appear in court over the claim, having been accused of public misconduct. (Ouch.)

EQUALITY ISSUES: In general, Johnson has voted in favour of strengthening LGBT+ rights. He was Mayor of London when MPs voted on gay marriage, but in 2003 he voted to revoke Section 28 – a law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. He also took part in London pride events while he was mayor.

However, it emerged last year that Johnson had used the phrase “tank-topped bumboys” in a 1998 Telegraph column.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? It’s no secret that Boris Johnson has had his fair share of gaffes during his time in the public eye. But by far the biggest controversy caused by the Tory MP was when he compared burka-wearing Muslim women to “letter boxes”.

He wrote in The Telegraph in 2018: “If you tell me that the burka is oppressive, then I am with you… I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.



AGE: 45

CONSTITUENCY: Esher and Walton

ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Brexit secretary (2018 - 2018)

BREXIT STANCE: Raab – who resigned as Brexit secretary after saying he couldn’t support the Brexit deal he helped to craft – has insisted he is the best man to get the UK out of the Brexit deadlock. Like BoJo, Raab has insisted that the UK must leave the EU deal or no-deal, comparing ruling out no-deal to “taking out a gun, carefully loading a bullet into each chamber, and presenting it to your opposite number with an invitation to use it”.

NHS: After Donald Trump’s visit, Raab tweeted: “I want to see the UK get fair deals on trade with the US and many other countries when we leave the EU. But the NHS is not for sale to any country and never would be if I was Prime Minister.

EQUALITY ISSUES: Raab voted in favour of gay marriage back in 2013. However, Raab’s track record on gender equality is far from squeaky-clean. Having called feminists “obnoxious bigots” back in 2011, Raab last month said he would “probably not” describe himself as feminist – but insisited he is still a “champion of equality”. Go figure.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? Raab’s comments about feminism are among the most controversial of his career. However, the then-Brexit secretary caused drama back in 2018 when he admitted he “hadn’t quite understood” how reliant the UK is on the Dover-Calais crossing. (Which just fills you full of confidence.)


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AGE: 46

CONSTITUENCY: Penrith and The Border

ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: International development secretary (2019 - present)

BREXIT STANCE: Stewart has explicitly vowed to take no-deal off the table if he is elected prime minister – and has also dismissed the idea of a second referendum, saying it would only confirm that the country is divided over Brexit. Instead, he has said he would put together a people’s assembly of 500 “normal people” to thrash out a consensus on Brexit that parliament could get behind.

NHS Stewart hasn’t had much to say about the NHS yet during this campaign. However, he lined up behind many of his fellow Tory leadership contenders to warn Donald Trump that the NHS would not be “on the table” during post-Brexit US-UK trade talks, after the president suggested it would be during his state visit.

Stewart tweeted: “In case there was any doubt - I would not be ‘offering up’ the NHS in any trade deal. The NHS is incredibly important - an extraordinary institution - a great symbol of our civilisation which we should protect and invest in an institution of which we should be deeply proud.”

EQUALITY ISSUES Stewart voted in favour of gay marriage back in 2013.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? Unless you live in Stewart’s Cumbrian constituency, the first you heard of him was probably when he announced he was running for leader. So Stewart – who was once a private tutor to Harry and Wills – hasn’t had much chance to stir up a lot of big-scale controversy over the years.

However, the clean cut-looking MP shocked many at the very start of the election campaign when he revealed he once smoked opium at a wedding in Iran. In the UK, opium is considered a Class A drug, carrying up to a seven year sentence in prison for possession.

The international development secretary insisted the drug had “no effect” on him as he was walking up to 30 miles a day.



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FULL NAME: Mark James Harper

AGE: 49

CONSTITUENCY: Forest of Dean

ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Immigration minister (2012 - 2014), minister for disabled people (2014 - 2015), chief whip (2015 - 2016)

BREXIT STANCE: Harper has insisted that voters shouldn’t believe “scare stories” about what would happen to the UK’s economy if it crashes out of the EU, saying the country would be able to work through any issues. He said he is prepared to take the UK out of the European Union with or without a Brexit deal.

NHS: In a recent interview with the New Statesman, Harper suggested that the £20 billion funding settlement given to the NHS in 2018 should have been spread more widely across Whitehall. Meanwhile, he has called for Conservative Party to restate the case for austerity.

EQUALITY ISSUES: During his time at the Home Office, Harper was behind the controversial ‘Go Home’ vans that appeared in 2014, telling illegal immigrants to “Go home or face arrest”.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? In 2014, then-immigration minister Harper resigned from government after it came to light that his cleaner did not have the right to work in the UK – though there was no suggestion he knew that when he hired her.


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AGE: 56

CONSTITUENCY: South Northamptonshire

ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Environment secretary (2016 - 2017), leader of the House of Commons (2017 - 2019)

BREXIT STANCE: A staunch Brexiteer, Leadsom – who resigned from the government in May over the PM’s Brexit plan – has said she would pursue a ‘managed no-deal’ if she was selected as leader. She told Andrew Marr: “What I’m suggesting is making an offer to the EU for things that were already agreed in the withdrawal agreement that will enable us to leave with a managed exit.”

NHS: She’s not said much about the NHS yet – but has previously campaigned for cystic fibrosis patients to be given access to the recently-licensed Orkambi drug on the NHS.

EQUALITY ISSUES: Leadsom – who has frequently spoken out about her pride at being a Christian – abstained from the gay marriage vote in 2013. However, while claiming to “absolutely support gay marriage”, she told ITV in 2016 she would have preferred marriage to remain between men and women only, saying the decision caused “very clear hurt” to many Christians.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? The Tory MP caused serious controversy during the last leadership race when she suggested she would make a better PM than the childless Theresa May as she has children.

In an interview with the Times in 2016, she said it must “really sad” not having children, telling the newspaper: “Genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.” Leadsom later said she was “disgusted” with the way the interview had been presented.


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AGE: 51


ROLES IN GOVERNMENT: Work and pensions secretary (2018 - 2018)

BREXIT STANCE: A hardline Brexiteer who resigned from government over May’s Brexit deal, McVey has vowed to take the UK out of the EU on Halloween “deal or no deal”. “We have to be out on the 31st of October,” she told the BBC.

NHS: McVey has promised to implement a radical new spending plan if she is elected leader, vowing to slash the UK’s foreign aid spend from 0.7% of the Gross National Income – currently around £14 billion a year.

Speaking about her plans to use half of the current foreign aid budget – around £7 billion – on domestic plans, she told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We’re going to have to say, you know what? We are going to leave it at high levels, however we have got to look after people at home, particularly safety on the streets, particularly in schools and transport and the NHS.”

EQUALITY ISSUES Not only did Esther McVey vote against allowing gay couples to marry in 2013, but in recent weeks she has been embroiled in the LGBT+ teaching row in Birmingham. Wading into the row about whether primary schools should teach children about same-sex relationships, McVey said parents should have the right to pull their kids out of lessons.

She told Sky News: “If parents want to take their young children, at a primary school, out of certain forms of sex education, relationship education, then that is down to them.”

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY? McVey found herself in some serious hot water last summer after misleading parliament over Universal Credit. The then-DWP secretary told the Commons that a report by the National Audit Office – Whitehall’s spending watchdog – had said that Universal Credit should be rolled out more quickly. An open letter to McVey from the auditor general – a highly unusual step – revealed this was very much not the case. The NAO had actually called on the DWP to make sure it was ready before transferring benefits claimants over to Universal Credit. Facing calls to resign, McVey apologised to parliament for “inadvertently misleading” MPs.


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