LONDON — British politics was thrown into turmoil on Friday after the British Prime Minister David Cameron's high-stakes gamble failed to pay off as Britons narrowly voted to leave the European Union.
Cameron was campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU, and had he taken the majority of voters with him, he would have been lauded as the prime minister who rolled the dice over two of Britain's great identity issues — Scotland and the European Union — and came up trumps.
Instead, on Friday morning, he announced he would be stepping down.
"The country requires fresh leadership," said Cameron, whose voice was shaking at the end of his short, dignified speech outside of Downing Street. He said that by October, there should be a new leader of the Conservative Party in place, thus triggering a leadership race.
His sudden decision to step down, which many thought inevitable given the surprise outcome of the in-out EU Referendum, comes only a year after he led his Conservative Party to a surprise parliamentary majority.
Cameron has repeatedly said that he would stay in office, no matter what the outcome of the referendum. Some 84 pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers have previously written to Cameron urging him to stay on, independent of the results of the vote.
But the very question of whether he could — or should — soldier on was dominating the national conversation after the majority of Britons voted to leave the EU.
So who could succeed him? That's up to Conservative lawmakers and party members.
But according to Rupert Adams, a spokesman at the betting agency William Hill, the leading contenders — as of Friday morning — were Boris Johnson, Theresa May, George Osborne and Michael Gove. He stressed that this was valid as of early Friday morning, and subject to change throughout the day as events were unfolding with breathless speed.
Boris Johnson (11/4): If David Cameron was the biggest political loser of the night, Boris Johnson is arguably the big winner with voters backing his campaign to leave the E.U., also known as "Brexit." Johnson is one of the country's best known politicians, known across the country simply as "Boris." The former mayor of London took a massive gamble when he threw his hat into the ring of the Brexit camp, thus defying the prime minister, but it paid off with the surprise win.
Theresa May (11/2): Theresa May, Britain's Home Secretary, campaigned for the United Kingdom to 'remain' in the EU though not prominently. She is seen as an effective operator at the Home Office, traditionally a difficult posting.
Mujtaba Rahman, a European analyst with Eurasia Group, in a Friday morning briefing note said that a leadership context would likely boil down to a race between Johnson and May.
May is "is competent and is well-liked by her peers in Europe, who believe, correctly, she will be a less awkward negotiating partner than Johnson," he wrote.
George Osborne (11/2): George Osborne, Britain's finance secretary, was long considered the heir apparent to Downing Street. But his star has plummeted over the course of the referendum campaign, with many criticizing his campaign tactics. He drew criticism from his Conservative colleagues when he said that a 'leave' vote would require the government to push through an emergency budget to raise 30 billion pounds (about $41,048,700,000) for a hole that would result from a hit to the economy.
Michael Gove (7/1): Britain's Justice Secretary is a controversial figure, admired by some, loathed by others. Gove — or "Gover," has Johnson calls him — was one of the key figures in the 'leave' camp.