The question of who will lead Britain into its future outside the European Union — a muddled mess for nearly a week — was further scrambled Thursday, with the camp that had favored an exit splintering into warring tribes and forcing former London mayor Boris Johnson to drop from the contest to become prime minister.
The latest whiplash in British politics pushes the flamboyant Johnson to the margins and sets up a showdown within the governing Conservatives to replace Prime Minister David Cameron, who is stepping down in the wake of the E.U. snub by British voters.
The choice cuts across the lines of the referendum: Go with a party insider who broke with Cameron and championed the anti-E.U. side, or stick with a Cameron loyalist and pick Britain’s first female leader since Margaret Thatcher.
Until Thursday morning, the race had been shaping up as a likely standoff between Johnson, the mop-headed rogue who favored “leave,” and Theresa May, the no-nonsense domestic security chief who had backed “remain.”
But Michael Gove, the bookish justice secretary who was regarded as the intellectual architect of the “leave” campaign, shocked the country’s political establishment Thursday by announcing that he, too, would enter the fray.
Later — and just minutes before the deadline to formally join the pack to occupy 10 Downing Street — Johnson bowed out.
Gove had been expected to serve as Johnson’s campaign manager, uniting the two men who had been the most prominent Conservative backers for Brexit, as a British departure from the European Union is popularly known.
But he apparently had a last-minute change of heart, saying he had come “to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Gove, who has been nearly invisible since last Thursday’s referendum to exit the European Union, did not release any detailed vision for the country’s future. He said his “plan for the United Kingdom which I hope can provide unity and change” would be unveiled “in the coming days.”
Johnson, who had widely been considered the favorite to take the keys to Downing Street, has also made himself scarce since the vote, largely avoiding the media.
But in a speech Thursday, Johnson delivered an extensive defense of his record as London mayor and said the country needed someone to lead the country to a fairer and more prosperous future outside the European Union.
It appeared that he was preparing to announce his entry into the race to be prime minister, and several British media outlets reported that was exactly what it was. As the speech came to a close, however, Johnson delivered a stunner, saying that “in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”
Johnson’s choice to opt out was an extraordinary development for a man who has made little secret that he covets the top job in British politics.
Gove’s decision was equally astonishing.
His announcement that he will stand for prime minister, despite earlier support for Johnson, is just the latest in a Shakespearean string of betrayals at the highest reaches of British politics. First Johnson and Gove turned their backs on Cameron, their friend and sparring partner since their days at Oxford. Then Gove, who campaigned for Brexit beside Johnson for months, turned the knife on the former London mayor.
SOURCE: Griff Witte
The Washington Post