Theresa May now favourite to be UK’s next prime minister
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.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved