Brexit turns brutal as UK implodes
The United Kingdom's descent into anarchy continues apace, with furious insults flying back and forth between its top politicians, and leadership favourite Boris Johnson facing court over misconduct claims.
Emotions are at an all-time high, with 11 candidates now scrapping it out to take over from Prime Minister Theresa May after she tearfully announced she will stand down on June 7.
Each contender has a different idea of how to extricate the UK from its Brexit impasse, with the debacle unresolved three years after the vote to leave the European Union.
An angry war of words is now consuming the Conservative government, after it suffered its worst result in 200 years in the European elections. Whoever wins will face attacks on every side - from Labour, Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, and Remain parties the Liberal Democrats and Greens.
'I SAY F*** "F*** BUSINESS"'
The new prime minister will be elected first by Tory MPs whittling the field down to two before the 120,000-strong membership across the country chooses between them. Mr Johnson is by far the frontrunner with rank-and-file members, so MPs are likely to feel obligated to make him one of the final two.
But the former foreign secretary is now set to face court after a crowdfunded private prosecution over his assertion during the EU referendum that the UK gave $640 million to Europe every week.
He has also alienated some fellow Tory MPs when he said "f*** business" last year, in response to businesses warning against a hard Brexit.
Leadership contender and health secretary Matt Hancock distanced himself from Mr Johnson overnight, telling the Financial Times: "To the people who say 'f*** business', I say 'f*** f*** business'."
Sources close to Mr Johnson claim he was referring to anti-EU business lobby groups rather than businesses.
'THREATENING TO BLOW YOUR HEAD OFF'
Some Brexiteers had been considering backing current foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt for the prime ministership over Mr Johnson or Dominic Raab. But Mr Hunt also infuriated supporters when he said on Tuesday that trying to leave the EU without a deal would be "political suicide" for the Conservative Party, which could lose a confidence vote in parliament, triggering a general election.
International development secretary Rory Stewart told The Times that Mr Hunt's refusal to take no deal off the table while issuing such a warning was "like trying to buy a car by threatening to blow your head off with a gun".
Mr Stewart was accused by some MPs of being part of a "Stop Boris" campaign, and only running for the leadership to get rid of Mr Johnson and clear a path for environment secretary Michael Gove, with one Tory source labelled him a "suicide bomber" candidate.
But Mr Stewart told The Guardian on Tuesday that he was "uncomfortable" with the language after working as a governor in Iraq.
The violent rhetoric was also echoed by the wife of Mr Gove, who has the highest number of MPs supporting him for the prime ministership, according to a Times analysis.
Columnist Sarah Vine wrote in the Daily Mail that her husband had told her that "watching parliament drive Brexit into a cul-de-sac over the past few years has been excruciating" and he could not help thinking "if only I could just get my hands on the steering wheel."
She made a plea for "civility" before describing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a "creepy communist".
As the recriminations worsened, Mr Raab published a "clean campaign" pledge promising to avoid nasty campaigning and signed by home secretary Sajid Javid and Mr Hancock.
But that turned into a fight too, after Eurosceptic Steve Baker called it a "schoolboy dirty trick" because it had been published before other candidates were asked to sign.
NO-DEAL, SECOND VOTE OR AN ELECTION
An election or a second referendum now looks increasingly likely.
Mr Javid has been non-committal about whether he would try to leave the EU without a deal if he won the leadership race, saying there were "too many divides in our country today" and saying he would recruit 20,000 more police officers if he became prime minister.
Mr Johnson, Mr Raab, Mr Gove and Mr Hunt have all said they would attempt to find a new exit deal with the EU before leaving without one, but European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday he was "crystal clear" there would not be a renegotiation.
Sources in Brussels told The Sun they feared further deadline extensions if a hardline PM fails to force a no deal through the UK parliament, prolonging the chaos.
But a no-deal Brexit - sending the UK crashing out and having to negotiate a trade deal afterwards - looks unlikely to pass parliament, as Mr Hunt pointed out.
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has announced he will stay in his position until the exit was finalised, in a blow to Brexiteers who believe he is biased in favour of Remain. The speaker warned leadership candidates not to try to force a no-deal Brexit without the UK parliament's agreement.
Mr Corbyn said he would hold a second vote on "any deal", after the two main parties performed dismally in the European elections last weekend.
Some have complained about the growing field of candidates for the top job, but new candidate and Brexit minister James Cleverly said Mrs May had been "uncontested and untested" after her competitors dropped out and later turned out not to "fit well with the role of prime minister".
It is not clear who will be fit to lead Britain out of this mess.