LONDON (AP) — Former London Mayor Boris Johnson threw his support Tuesday behind one of the least-known Conservative Party leadership contenders — Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom — as the race to be Britain’s next prime minister heats up in the tumultuous aftermath of its decision to leave the European Union.
The Conservatives are holding their first round of voting Tuesday to whittle down the field in race to replace Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his intention to resign after losing the vote on EU membership.
Tuesday’s vote will eliminate one of the five contenders, but it will also measure the relative strength of the survivors, including the presumed front-runner, Home Secretary Theresa May.
Johnson, one of the most prominent figures in the ‘leave’ campaign to get out of the EU, said Leadsom, 53, has the “zap, drive and determination” to lead the country. Johnson himself decided not to run when his former ally, Michael Gove, withheld support for Johnson to try to become prime minister himself.
A sprawling fight for power has upended the predictability of British politics since the June 23 referendum on a British exit from the EU, or Brexit. Three major political figures — Cameron, Johnson and U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage — have stepped aside rather than weather the upcoming tense, involved divorce negotiations with the remaining 27 nations in the bloc.
Top EU officials, besides wondering with whom they will negotiate, offered pointed commentary Tuesday on the leaders who pushed so hard to get Britain out of the EU — and then stepped aside. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told EU lawmakers that “leave” figureheads Johnson and Farage “are not patriots.”
“Patriots don’t resign when things get difficult,” he said. “They stay.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the Liberal bloc leader in the EU Parliament, likened the resignations to “rats fleeing a sinking ship.”
The ramifications of leaving the EU’s single market of 500 million are roiling the financial markets. The British pound was down sharply Tuesday, as were shares in U.K. real estate companies, amid concerns that the exit from the EU will hurt property prices in Britain.
The pound was down 0.9 percent to $1.3166, its lowest since the vote and the weakest in 31 years.
Amid the upheaval, Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney projected a sense of calm Tuesday as he relaxed capital requirements for banks to free up money for loans for homes and businesses.
“The bank can be expected to take whatever action is needed to promote monetary and financial stability, and as a consequence, support the real economy,” Carney said. “These efforts mean we can all look ahead, not over our shoulders.”
The Bank of England has cited commercial real estate as one of the risks to the British economy. The sector had taken in capital from overseas and had become “stretched,” the bank said.
Financial groups Aviva Investors and Standard Life stopped trading Tuesday in commercial property funds following a rapid increase in investors trying to liquidate their holdings. Both said they stopped trading to protect other investors who wished to remain in their respective funds.
“The dominos are starting to fall in the U.K. commercial property market, as yet another fund locks its doors on the back of outflows precipitated by the Brexit vote,” Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said after the move by Aviva. “It’s probably only a matter of time before we see other funds follow suit.”
The benchmark FTSE 100 stock index was down only 0.3 percent, but that masked big drops in property companies’ shares. Barratt Developments was down 6.2 percent, Taylor Wimpey 6.5 percent and Persimmon 5.4 percent.
Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.