LONDON — Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who led the campaign to withdraw Britain from the European Union and who many had thought would be the next prime minister, has taken himself out of the running for the top job.
It was a surprise move on Thursday for the former mayor, who was largely expected to stand for Conservative Party leader after Prime Minister David Cameron announced last week that he would step down.
Johnson, 52, gathered the media in Central London on Thursday afternoon for what was expected to be his campaign launch for party leader. But instead, he announced that he was not the right person to unify the party and the country after last week’s referendum to pull Britain out of the E.U., which the “Leave” side, led by Johnson, won by 52% to 48%.
“I must tell you, my friends, you who have waited faithfully for the punchline of this speech, that, having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me,” Johnson said. “My role will be to give every possible support to the next Conservative administration to make sure that we properly fulfill the mandate of the people that was delivered in the referendum, and to champion the agenda I believe in — to stick up for the forgotten people in this country.”
The announcement came a few hours after Johnson’s campaign was dealt a fatal blow this morning after his fellow Leave campaigner Michael Gove announced that he would stand for leader of the Conservative Party.
“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,” said Gove in a statement. “But I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Gove’s announcement sank Johnson’s prospects for leading the Conservatives, with reports suggesting that many members of the Conservative Party believed Johnson had become chaotic and opportunistic.
Prior to Gove’s bid for Tory leadership, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Cameron’s closest deputy, had also ruled himself out of the race to become prime minister. The contest will now see Gove standing against current Home Secretary Theresa May, who backed staying in the E.U., and three lesser-known candidates.
British politics has been thrown into chaos since the referendum. Cameron, who led the “Remain” campaign and originally offered up a U.K. referendum on the E.U. during last year’s general election in a bid to secure a second term as prime minister, resigned shortly after the result last week, indicating a new leader would be appointed by the autumn.
As Conservatives spent the last six days battling it out for the leadership contest, the Labour party has been tearing itself apart with leader Jeremy Corbyn defying calls from fellow MPs to stand down in national interest. More than 30 members of the shadow cabinet resigned earlier this week and Corbyn lost a vote of no confidence from his party on June 29 in a 172 to 40 vote. Labour MP Angela Eagle is expected to launch her Labour leadership bid shortly.