The battle for the Conservative leadership has been dramatically transformed after Boris Johnson announced he will not stand in the race to succeed David Cameron.
His decision leaves home secretary Theresa May as favourite to be the next UK prime minister.
It came after the shock announcement by fellow Brexit campaigner Michael Gove — who had widely been expected to be Mr Johnson’s running mate — that he was putting himself forward for the leadership.
In a press conference moments before the deadline for nominations passed, Mr Johnson said the next Tory leader would have to unify his party and ensure Britain stood tall in the world.
And he said: “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”
His withdrawal from the fight before battle had been joined came after justice secretary Mr Gove — who campaigned alongside Mr Johnson for Leave in the EU referendum — said Mr Johnson “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.
In a bombshell announcement hours before Mr Johnson was due to formally launch his leadership bid, Mr Gove said he had “reluctantly” concluded he could not support the ex-London mayor.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Johnson made supporters and journalists wait until the end of his speech before revealing his intentions, just moments before the official announcement from the Tories 1922 Committee that there would be five candidates: Mr Gove, Ms May, work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb, former defence secretary Liam Fox, and pro-Brexit energy minister Andrea Leadsom.
Britain had a chance “to think globally again, to lift our eyes to the horizon, to bring our uniquely British voice and values, powerful, humane, progressive, to the great global forums without being elbowed aside by a supranational body” and the agenda for the next PM would be to “seize this chance and make this our moment to stand tall in the world”, said Mr Johnson.
But he added: “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.”
Meanwhile, Ms May launched her bid with a message that the country needed “strong leadership” at a time of economic and political uncertainty and — in a swipe at Mr Johnson — warned that politics was not a “game”.
Contrasting herself with those who enter politics out of “ideological fervour” or “ambition or glory”, she said she was a “public service” politician who was not “showy” but could “get the job done”.
In a further olive branch to Leave supporters, she said she would create a department to oversee the UK’s departure from the EU.
In a further fracturing of the Vote Leave campaign, Ms Leadsom announced she was making her own bid for the leadership.
The chairman of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, announced that the first set of voting will take place on Tuesday as the party’s MPs winnow down the field of five candidates to two.
With the least successful contender eliminated at each round, further ballots will be held on Thursday, then successive Tuesdays and Thursdays until two front-runners emerge to be put forward to the party membership in the country for a final decision.
Mr Brady said the committee wants a winner to be chosen by September 9.
Five in the running to be Conservative leader
And then there was five.
Here is a brief guide to the five Conservatives who will be standing for party leader.
- Theresa May: A quiet Remain backer who is seen as a steady hand to calm the party after its post-Brexit turbulence. The current home secretary’s campaign will be run by Chris Grayling. The Maidenhead MP is seen as the favourite to succeed David Cameron. She said: “My pitch is very simple. I’m Theresa May and I think I’m the best person to be prime minister of this country.”
- Michael Gove, the justice secretary, who sparked controversy when he was handling the education brief, was at Boris Johnson’s side for much of the Vote Leave campaign. Mr Gove appeared to be throwing his support behind Mr Johnson’s leadership ambitions, before performing an incredible about-turn and running himself, saying he did not believe Mr Johnson could “provide the leadership” the Tories needed. Only a three hours after the Gove statement, Mr Johnson quit the contest.
- Stephen Crabb, the work and pensions secretary, is hugely popular in the Conservative parliamentary party and comes from the sort of ordinary background that chimes with many voters. The former Welsh secretary says the party should be led by someone “who understands the enormity of the situation we’re in and who has got a clear plan to deliver on the expectations of the 17m people who voted to come out last week’’ including keeping the UK together.
- Andrea Leadsom: An assured performance by the energy minister for the Brexit side in the referendum campaign won Ms Leadsom praise. The former banker and fund manager announced she was in the running, tweeting: “Let’s make the most of the Brexit opportunities!”
- Liam Fox — who unsuccessfully sought the top job in 2005 — was the first to confirm he was considering a fresh bid. An outspoken supporter of Brexit, he would hope to win over the right of the party. The former defence secretary resigned from the front benches in 2011 after allowing his friend and best man Adam Werritty to take on an unofficial and undeclared role as his adviser.