Shock as Boris Johnson exits Tory leadership race

Michael Gove says he does not believe former mayor of London can ‘provide leadership’

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, a leading Brexit campaigner who had been considered one of the favourites to replace David Cameron as British Prime Minister, says he will not be standing. Video: Reuters


Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson has ruled himself out of running in the Conservative Party leadership contest, despite having been considered one of the favourites to replace David Cameron as the UK prime minister.

“Let us seize this chance and make this our moment to stand tall in the world. That is the agenda for the next prime minister of this country,” Mr Johnson told reporters.

“But I must tell you, my friends ... that having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”

The former London mayor’s shock announcement caused the British pound to rise to a high of $1.3494, before falling back again to $1.3430 by 12.15pm.

Michael Gove earlier announced he would stand for the leadership, saying he does not believe Mr Johnson could “provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.

British interior minister Theresa May formally also launched her bid on Thursday with a promise to honour last week’s decision by voters to take the country out of the European Union.

“Brexit means Brexit,” Ms May said in a speech.

“The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.”

Speaking after announcing his running in the leadership race, Mr Gove said:

“I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be prime minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me.

“I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership. In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.

“But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.

“I have, therefore, decided to put my name forward for the leadership. I want there to be an open and positive debate about the path the country will now take. Whatever the verdict of that debate I will respect it. In the next few days I will lay out my plan for the United Kingdom which I hope can provide unity and change.”

In an email sent mistakenly by Mr Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, to a member of the public exposed her lack of trust in Mr Johnson to give her husband the terms or job he is after. “You must have specific [promises] from Boris,” she wrote.

It also expressed reservations about Mr Johnson’s appeal to members and media leaders such as Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Sun and the Times, and Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail.

“Crucially, the membership will not have the necessary reassurance to back Boris, neither will Dacre/Murdoch, who instinctively dislike Boris but trust your ability enough to support a Boris/Gove ticket”.

A source close to Mr Gove said it was just Ms Vine’s own opinion but it chimes with some worries expressed by Conservative MPs about Mr Johnson’s character and appeal.

Three other Tory candidates formally launched their bids for the top job on Wednesday: Stephen Crabb, the work and pensions secretary and remain campaigner, running as a blue-collar conservative; Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, an energy minister.