Britain could have a new prime minister by early September, the ruling Conservative Party said today, after David Cameron started laying the groundwork for his successor to trigger the country's exit from the European Union.
The government is under pressure to fill a vacuum left when Cameron announced he would resign by October after Britain ignored his advice and voted to leave the 28-member bloc in last week's referendum.
Triggering a leadership battle which could draw in some of his closest advisers, Cameron urged ministers to work together in the meantime. But he also formed a separate unit, staffed by public servants, to help advise Britain on its departure and its options for a future outside the EU.
Graham Brady, chair of the "1922 committee" of Conservative lawmakers which sets the party's ground rules in parliament, said the group had recommended that the leadership contest should begin next week and conclude no later than Sept. 2.
That recommendation will almost certainly be passed.
"Both the Conservatives and the country more generally really want certainty. We would like a resolution and we think it would be a good thing to conclude this process as soon as we practicably can," Brady told Sky News.
He said there should be no new parliamentary election before Britain had negotiated the terms of its exit from the EU.
Several Conservative lawmakers have urged leadership candidates to try to broker a deal quickly to make sure that any campaign is as painless as possible, to avoid deepening divisions exposed during the referendum campaign.
"A leadership contest now is not in the interests of our country," said Justine Greening, international development minister. "It will mean our party focuses inward at the very time our country most needs us to focus outward."
Jockeying for position
All eyes are on former London mayor Boris Johnson, the most prominent of the "Leave" campaigners and now bookmakers' favourite to succeed Cameron.
But not all party members back him and many are pressing for "Anyone But Boris", seeing his decision to back the Leave campaign as a betrayal of his former ally Cameron, according to media reports.
Cameron's spokeswoman declined to comment on the leadership battle and said there had been no discussion at today's cabinet meeting, which did not include Johnson, about the possibility of an early parliamentary election.
Instead, she said, the Prime Minister had urged unity both in government and in the country and had announced he had set up an advisory unit to help manage Britain's departure from the European Union and to make sure his successor has all the possible information necessary to decide the country's future.
The unit would "make sure we have done the groundwork ready for a new prime minister. So it is about preparing advice on the whole range of issues that will need to be looked at, things like transitional issues," she said, adding that Oliver Letwin, a lawmaker and friend of Cameron's, would be involved in it.
For now, the priority was working together on government business, which some critics say has been all but put on hold since campaigning for the referendum began in February, and reassuring the many migrants who fear their status may change.
Cameron would not put up with intolerance, she added, after reports that migrants, particularly those from Poland, had been told by some Britons to "go home" after the referendum.
"Across Britain we should be standing together at the moment, to not allow the result of this referendum to divide communities or to provoke fear amongst some."