The Liberal Democrats have suspended their leadership campaign for a year so the party can focus its full attention on the “fallout” from coronavirus.
The opposition party had been due to start the process for replacing Jo Swinson, who was forced to step down as leader after losing her seat at the December general election, in May and announce a successor in July.
But the pro-European Union outfit said it was putting the country first while the UK was going through its “biggest crisis” since the Second World War by postponing until May 2021.
The country is currently going through our biggest crisis since 1945 - our party has decided that we must put all our attention into dealing with fallout from coronavirusMark Pack, Lib Dem president
Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday announced a fresh package of measures to support self-employed people left worse off by the UK lockdown but admitted not every job and business would be saved by the Treasury’s interventions.
Mr Sunak’s announcement came after the daily death toll of those who had passed away after contracting coronavirus exceeded 100 for the first time since the pandemic began.
A total of 578 people have died so far in the UK after being diagnosed with the deadly virus.
Announcing the postponement of the party’s leadership contest, Lib Dem president Mark Pack said: “The country is currently going through our biggest crisis since 1945.
“Our party has decided that we must put all our attention into dealing with fallout from coronavirus.
Liberal Democrat leadership election postponed until 2021 https://t.co/PQqNcr7IBB— Mark Pack 🔶 (@markpack) March 26, 2020
“The Liberal Democrats have always put the national interest first and I am proud of the role we have played in championing NHS and care workers, as well as sticking up for the self-employed.
“We will continue to scrutinise Government policy and fight for the most vulnerable in our society.”
The party’s federal board decided in January that nominations for candidates would open on May 11 and close on May 28, with the ballot for the party’s new leader starting on June 18 and concluding on July 15, but the process will now be put back by 12 months.
Lib Dem rules dictate that the party leader must be a sitting MP, meaning Ms Swinson had to resign after being toppled by the SNP in her former East Dunbartonshire constituency.
The party went into last year’s election holding 20 seats after a number of defections had boosted its number of MPs.
But the party polled poorly during the winter vote and secured just 11 seats overall.
Education spokeswoman Layla Moran announced this month she plans to run for leader and acting leader Sir Ed Davey is also expected to stand in the postponed contest.