Leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson yesterday ruled himself out of the race to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron in a bombshell announcement just a week after Britain voted to leave the EU.
The decision by the former London mayor upended the Conservative Party’s leadership contest and added to the deep uncertainty over how and when Britain will split from the bloc.
The shock outcome of the June 23 referendum has led to massive political upheaval, with warnings about the country’s economic future and fears about the very unity of the United Kingdom.
The maverick Johnson had been tipped as a favourite to succeed Cameron, who resigned after the vote saying he would leave it to his successor to begin formal talks with the EU on Britain’s departure — despite European leaders insisting on a quick divorce.
The frontrunner in the five-horse race is now interior minister Theresa May, who supported staying in the EU but insisted she would honour the referendum outcome and lead Britain out of the bloc.
Johnson made his announcement after fellow Brexit campaigner Michael Gove effectively torpedoed his chances by announcing his own surprise bid for the top job, sharply criticising his mop-haired ex-ally.
The power struggle brought comparisons to Shakespeare tragedies, with one MP likening Gove’s actions to those of a murderous Macbeth.
Senior Conservative Michael Heseltine said Johnson — author of a book on Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill — was “like a general, that led his army to the sound of guns, and at the sight of the battlefield abandoned the field.”
He accused Johnson of generating “the greatest constitutional crisis of modern times”.