Shock as Johnson bows out of race
The race to become Britain's next prime minister took a dramatic, unexpected turn Thursday as former London Mayor Boris Johnson - popular with the public and widely considered to be a front-runner - ruled himself out of contention after the defection of a key ally.
In a morning of political machinations and high-stakes treachery that had commentators reaching for Shakespearean parallels, Justice Secretary Michael Gove abruptly withdrew his support for Johnson and announced that he would run for the Conservative Party leadership himself.
Johnson, a prominent campaigner for Britain's withdrawal from the 28-nation European Union, then told a news conference that the next Conservative leader would need to unite the party and ensure Britain's standing in the world.
"Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me," he said to the astonishment of journalists and supporters.
The decision by Johnson, 52, is an unexpected twist in a political career that saw him serve as journalist, lawmaker, and mayor, building a public profile on Latin quips, cycling, and rumpled eccentricity, while nurturing a poorly concealed ambition to lead his country.
Johnson's decision to break with long-time ally Prime Minister David Cameron and back the "leave" side in Britain's EU referendum seemed to have paid off last week when Cameron resigned after voters decided 52 to 48 per cent to exit the bloc.
Cameron's resignation triggered a Conservative leadership race. By yesterday afternoon, the nominating period had ended, leaving five candidates: Home Secretary Theresa May, Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, and former Defense Secretary Liam Fox, in addition to Gove.
Conservative lawmakers will choose two finalists and then more than 100,000 party members select the winner by a postal ballot, to be announced on September 9.
The winner will become Britain's prime minister and play a vital role shaping the nature of its relationship with the EU after last week's Brexit vote ended the career of Cameron, whose bid to keep Britain in the continental bloc failed.
The bookies' early favourite is the 59-year-old May, who is seen by many in the party as a safe pair of hands as the country struggles to disentangle itself from the EU. Her six years as Britain's interior minister, considered one of the toughest jobs in politics, gives her credibility to deal with the EU on the issue of immigration, sure to be one of the thorniest topics in the exit talks.
"My pitch is very simple," she said at a campaign launch event. "I'm Theresa May and I think I'm the best person to be prime minister of this country.
"If ever there was a time for a prime minister who is ready and able to do the job from day one, this is it."
Although May had offered a tepid endorsement of Britain's place in the EU during the referendum campaign, she was clear that the results of the vote would be respected.
"The United Kingdom will leave the EU," she said, pledging to create a brand new government department devoted to negotiating Britain's "sensible and orderly" departure from the bloc.
Boosting May's chances was a last-minute falling out between her two leading competitors - Gove and Johnson - who had campaigned together to yank Britain from the EU.
Both men have been criticised since the referendum result was declared for failing to lay out concrete plans for Britain's divorce from the EU.