Tories begin to focus on life post-David Cameron

Resignations are the height of fashion at the moment in Westminster, unless of course you are the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

But as Nigel Farage announces his departure, Tory MPs are now starting to focus on who the best person will be to pick up the pieces that have been thrown up in the air after the referendum and reshape them into a new-look Tory government - and a team that can rework our relationship with the rest of the European Union.

Ironically today, it was the Outers - Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom - who've been most willing to give assurances that EU nationals who already live here, can stay for good. Even more ironic, it was Nigel Farage - who's spent his political career arguing to reduce immigration - who called for all the wannabe leaders to agree with him that had to happen.

It's Home Secretary Theresa May who has been least willing to make any promises. Despite one of her ministers being given a hard time in the Commons this afternoon to give that guarantee, her supporters, like Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, say that in a complicated negotiation, it's not wise, or even realistic to make any promises at all.

Strange times indeed though, when the most Eurosceptic people in this race are giving the firmest guarantees about immigrants' futures. It's not really likely that anyone would argue for, or accept an end to, the rights of people already here to stay. But May's fans say it's a mark of her experience and pragmatism that she won't make promises she can't keep, or reveal what might be on or off the table in EU talks.

Intriguingly, even though EU countries have repeated time and again, that there can be no talks until Article 50, the legal mechanism for exit, is triggered, Philip Hammond told me he's already had informal conversations with his counterparts around the continent - once they had got over their "shellshock" at the Brexit vote. Indeed, he said that informal talks could happen as early as next week.

For the first time, the five contenders for the Conservative leadership appeared in front of MPs tonight, eager to press their case and sign up more supporters. And according to MPs who were inside the room, Mrs May who showed she was a "class act".

Andrea Leadsom, who has just received the endorsement of Boris Johnson, might have pleased a Eurosceptic Tory audience this morning at her campaign launch in Westminster, but her experience in the crowded committee room tonight was apparently anything but impressive. One minister said "she totally crashed and burned", falling short of the expectation that had been building, that as the darling of the Brexiteers, she could become their star.

There's chatter that Michael Gove, fresh from what many see as his betrayal of Boris Johnson, has pleased some MPs. His team's strategy is that they can scoop up supporters of Liam Fox and Stephen Crabb once they are knocked out or drop out tomorrow. They believe that Mr Gove might be able to get some people on side because of his brain power and appetite for reform. They know however that they have a lot of persuading to do after his behaviour last week.

One cabinet minister told me "Boris and Michael have destroyed each other," another said, "He is damaged goods." Stephen Crabb, lesser known and lesser experienced, "had his patter worked out", and performed well I'm told, although he struggled to answer a question about how he would confront the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. Sources say a response that, "it's not just about me, but the team," did not convince.

As for Liam Fox, one MP joked: "He went on and on, and it reminded us why didn't win the last time."

As MPs prepare to vote in the first leadership ballot tomorrow, Tory minds are starting to focus on what life, post-David Cameron will look like. The expectation is that the two names on the ballot that goes to Tory party members for the final decision will be Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.

But despite their victory 10 days ago that will change the country, the Outers are struggling to find a stand-out candidate. Michael Gove's standing after last week's Machiavellian moves has suffered. Andrea Leadsom has a long way to go to convince MPs and members that she is ready for the job.

Right now it's someone who was on the losing side in the referendum, Theresa May, that is well in front. But given how quickly things have changed in Westminster in just a few short days, making any predictions is a risky game.

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