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Johnson Halts Bid to Be UK PM

Johnson Halts Bid to Be UK PMJohnson Halts Bid to Be UK PM

London’s ex-mayor, Boris Johnson, abruptly pulled out of the race to become Britain’s prime minister that he was once favored to win, upending the contest less than a week after he led a campaign to take the country out of the EU.

Johnson’s announcement, to audible gasps from a roomful of journalists and supporters on Thursday, was the biggest political surprise since Prime Minister David Cameron quit after losing last week’s referendum on British membership of the bloc, Reuters reported.

It makes interior minister Theresa May, a party stalwart who backed remaining in the European Union, the new favorite to succeed Cameron.

May, seen as a steady hand, announced her own candidacy earlier on Thursday, promising to deliver the withdrawal from the EU voters had demanded despite having campaigned for the other side.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she told a news conference. “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 backdoor and no second referendum.”

  “Punchline”

Johnson, whose backing for the Leave cause was seen as essential to its victory, saw his leadership bid suddenly crumble after his Brexit campaign ally, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, withdrew support and announced a bid of his own.

“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 at the close of his speech at a London luxury hotel.

Supporters, gathered for what they thought would be the first speech of his leadership campaign, were stunned. Johnson began by hailing a “moment for hope and ambition for Britain, a time not to fight against the tide of history but to take that tide at the flood and sail on to fortune”.

But by the time he spoke his bid had already been undermined by Gove, a close friend of Cameron’s despite differences with the prime minister over Europe, who had previously said he would back Johnson.

In an article on Thursday in the Spectator, a magazine Johnson used to edit, Gove wrote that he had come “reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.

The main opposition Labor Party also faces an acrimonious leadership battle, with lawmakers having overwhelmingly voted to withdraw confidence in leftwing party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s party critics say his campaign to remain in the EU was half-hearted. He has refused to go, saying he was chosen by grassroots activists not politicians.

The vacuum at the top of both major parties has added to the uncertainty at a time when Britain faces its biggest constitutional change since the dissolution of its empire in the decades after World War Two.

  “Dies by the Sword”

Conservative lawmakers said Johnson may have been undone by supporters of Cameron exacting revenge for his decision to defy the prime minister and back the Leave campaign.

“He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword,” said one lawmaker, describing internal party conflict on condition of anonymity.

The lawmaker told Reuters that Johnson had realized his bid would fail after lawmakers defected from his campaign overnight.

Johnson is the latest political casualty of a civil war in the ruling party unleashed by Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum on membership in the EU, an issue that divided the Conservatives for decades and now divides the country.

Known for a jokey public persona and mop of unkempt blonde hair, Johnson became a popular national figure during eight years as London mayor and used his charm to aid the Leave cause after deciding only late in the day to push for Brexit.

But in the week since his side won, several leading Conservatives questioned whether Johnson had the gravitas to run tough talks to mend the broken relationship with the EU.

Britain’s new prime minister faces a huge task to unite the party and country, and persuade the EU to offer a deal balancing the desire expressed by voters to reduce immigration with London’s aim of maintaining access to EU markets.

In addition to May and Gove, the candidates are Stephen Crabb, the Cabinet minister responsible for pensions, who campaigned to stay in the EU, and two pro-Brexit figures, Liam Fox, a rightwing former defense secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, a minister in the energy department.

Financialtribune.com