British Conservative party lawmaker Boris Johnson leaves a TV station after giving an interview in London. Johnson is a leading candidate in the Conservative Party leadership campaign to be the next British Prime Minister. Picture: Alastair Grant/AP

London - With Brexit in limbo following Prime Minister Theresa May's resignation as leader of the ruling Conservatives, all eyes are on the Brexit positions taken by the candidates to succeed her in the party's election contest.

Outspoken and gaffe-prone former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, dubbed "Britain's Trump" by some critics, is the strong favourite to be next leader of the party - and the country.

Backed by leading Conservative eurosceptics, Johnson consolidated his frontrunner status after this week's first round of voting by the party's lawmakers. He promised a tougher line in negotiations with Brussels and insisted that the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal must remain open.

  • Environment Secretary MICHAEL GOVE launched his campaign to lead the Conservatives on Monday, as the debate was largely dominated by Brexit. "The next prime minister faces a difficult challenge: Brexit," Gove said. "And it's not just enough to believe in Brexit - you've got to be able to deliver it."

Gove's leadership bid took a hit after he admitted taking cocaine several times while working as a journalist 20 years ago.

  • Writing Monday's Telegraph newspaper, BORIS JOHNSON promoted his plan to cut taxes and lead a market-driven expansion of environmental technology. He launched his own leadership campaign on Tuesday, dodging questions on whether he had also tried cocaine, like his old friend and former ally Gove.
  • The centre-ground favourite, Foreign Secretary JEREMY HUNT launched his campaign with a warning that Britain is "facing a constitutional crisis" over Brexit. "Our failure to deliver Brexit has put our country and our party in grave peril," Hunt said Hunt. He claimed earlier that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had told him Brussels would be "willing to negotiate" on the Brexit deal with a new leader.
  • French President EMMANUEL MACRON warned Johnson on Monday that non-payment of Britain's 39-billion-pound (50-billion-dollar) EU "divorce bill" would be seen as a "sovereign debt default" that could plunge Britain into financial crisis. Macron spoke out after Johnson said he would refuse to pay the Brexit settlement unless Brussels offered better withdrawal deal.
  • Johnson insisted that Britain must keep a LAST RESORT option of a no-deal Brexit. Launching his campaign, he vowed to take Britain out of the bloc with or without a deal on the agreed deadline of October 31.

"After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on 31 October and we must do better than the current withdrawal agreement that has been rejected three times by parliament," Johnson said. "I don't want a no-deal outcome but I think it is right for our great country to prepare for that outcome."

  • In Brussels, meanwhile, the EUROPEAN COMMISSION said a no-deal Brexit "very much remains a possible, although undesirable, outcome." Even in the case of a no-deal Brexit, Britain would be expected to honour its financial obligations to the EU as a precondition for discussions on future relations, the commission said in a statement.
  • European Commission President JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER insisted on Tuesday that the deal agreed by Britain "will not be renegotiated," irrespective of who succeeds May. "This is not a treaty between Theresa May and Juncker. This is a treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union," he told the Politico news website.
  • Johnson took a BIG LEAD in Thursday's first round of voting for the new leader, winning the backing of 114 of the 313 Conservative lawmakers, far ahead of second-placed Hunt on 43, as three of the 10 candidates were eliminated. Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced his withdrawal from the contest on Friday, leaving six contenders.

The Conservative lawmakers will whittle down the list next week to just two candidates to run off in a postal vote by the party's reported 160,000 members, with the result expected in the week beginning July 22.

dpa