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Favourite Johnson vows tax cut as race to succeed PM May starts

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Mr Johnson is the bookmakers' clear favourite and, polls say, the most popular with the 160,000 Conservative Party members.

London

BORIS Johnson promised tax cuts for higher earners if he becomes Britain's next prime minister as the crowded race to replace Theresa May officially begins on Monday in the shadow of the Brexit turmoil.

Mrs May stepped down as leader of the ruling Conservative Party on Friday having failed three times to get parliament to support her European Union divorce deal.

Nominations must be submitted on Monday, with each of the 11 candidates who have said they would run needing to secure at least eight backers from the Conservatives' 300-plus elected lawmakers.

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A number of the contenders look set to fall short of the support needed and voting later this week will whittle the field down further.

Former foreign minister Johnson is the bookmakers' clear favourite and, according to polls, the most popular with the 160,000 party members who will ultimately decide the next leader.

His pledge to raise the point at which workers begin paying a 40 per cent income tax to £80,000 (S$138,578) from £50,000 led the media headlines on Monday.

The move would cost £9.6 billion annually and be partly funded by using money set aside in the current budget to deal with the consequences of Brexit, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Mr Johnson, who has also suggested that Britain could withhold a previously agreed £39 billion Brexit payment, is one of a number of candidates who has stated that Britain would leave the European Union with or without a deal on the current date of Oct 31.

Several of the other leading hopefuls will set out their stall on Monday, and while all are keen to set out policies beyond Brexit, that issue will dominate the agenda.

Dominic Raab, one of the most hardline Brexit advocates who says he would rather leave without a deal than delay the exit, will launch his campaign under the banner of "Building a Fairer Britain".

Another, Andrea Leadsom, said on Monday she was proposing a"managed exit" by Oct 31 while Interior Minister Sajid Javid said his priority was to leave with a deal.

At the other end of the Brexit spectrum, Matt Hancock, who has ruled out leaving the bloc without a deal, will launch his campaign by promising Britain "a fresh start" with a pro-business platform aimed at reaching new, younger voters.

Pensions Minister Amber Rudd, who is backing Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and opposes a no-deal departure from the European Union, told BBC radio: "To me, it's not enough to say we're definitely leaving by Oct 31 without addressing how you are going to resolve it.

"The facts are the same and whoever becomes the next prime minister is going to be faced with the same arithmetic that the prime minister was," she said, adding that parliament would find a way to block a no-deal Brexit.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who was also considered to be among the favourites, is hoping to get his campaign back on track after he admitted taking cocaine when he was a young journalist.

Mr Gove apologised for what he said was a mistake but critics accused him of hypocrisy, pointing out that he had signed off on rules to ban teachers for life for taking cocaine in a previous role as education minister.

While the Conservative leadership battle unfolds, Mrs May remains as prime minister, with her replacement due to be in place by the end of July. REUTERS