Boris Johnson’s decision to rule himself out as the next British Prime Minister has catapulted current Home Secretary Theresa May to the front of the race to be the next occupant of 10 Downing Street.
Michael Gove, the man whose decision to stand scuppered Boris Johnson’s ambitions, has now set out to become Theresa May’s closest contender.
Mr Gove appeared to rub salt into the wounds of Johnson, by saying he decided to run late on Wednesday night after coming to the conclusion that the former Lord Mayor of London could not provide the unity or the leadership to take Britain out of the European Union.
Five candidates remain — the other three are Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, energy minister Andrea Leadsom and former defence secretary Liam Fox.
The Press Association last night compiled a list of Conservative MPs whose allegiance it had managed to verify — the next leader of the Tories, and therefore Prime Minister, will be chosen by the party’s MPs. 45 were in favour of Theresa May.
Andrea Leadsom had 11 supporters, Michael Gove had eight, Stephen Crabb had six and Liam Fox just two.
Bookmakers have seized on that making Mrs May the odds-on favourite.
Whichever of the hopefuls proves least popular among their 329 colleagues is eliminated one at a time until just two remain for the wider party membership to choose between.
The former deputy prime minister, Lord Heseltine likened Mr Johnson’s withdrawal to a general who abandoned the battlefield at the first sight of trouble.
“He has ripped the party apart,” he told BBC 5 Live.
“He has created the greatest constitutional crisis in modern times. He has knocked billions off the value of the nation’s savings. I have never seen such a contemptible and irresponsible situation. He must live with the shame of what he has done.”
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