Boris Johnson, one of the leading voices in the Brexit campaign and the man considered to be the favorite to replace outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron, delivered a bombshell Thursday when he announced he didn’t want the job.
Living up to his reputation as a political maverick, the former London mayor outlined the demands of the role over the course of a lengthy speech in London and then said: “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that that person cannot be me.”
The charismatic Conservative MP played a decisive role in the campaign to lead Britain out of the European Union an endeavor many saw as partly an effort to position himself as the future leader of the ruling Conservative Party, and of the country.
The announcement drew a stunned response across the UK and beyond. On social media, it was met with disbelief and anger.
Since the unexpected Leave vote sent the pound tumbling, hurt global markets and inspired renewed talk of Scottish independence, many have seen Britain as a casualty of Johnson’s now-thwarted leadership ambitions.
“I am very surprised #BorisJohnson ran the campaign to get us out of the EU and didn’t have the guts to re establish the country! Odd move,” tweeted entrepreneur Mark Wright.
Wright said Johnson obviously did not truly want a Brexit. “He wanted a close race to show campaign leadership skills for a PM move later on. At what cost to us(?),” he tweeted.
Labour MP Jo Stevens responded with disgust, describing Johnson as “narcissism personified.”
“Cameron & #BorisJohnson wrecked the UK. And now neither will take any responsibility,” she tweeted.
CNN political contributor Robin Oakley said that “undoubtedly (people are) going to feel let down that he’s not standing,” adding that he had spoken to many people who had voted Leave due to the campaigning of Johnson, the larger-than-life former journalist.
“Something’s gone badly wrong here,” Oakley said, referring to the apparent split between Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who had campaigned closely together in leading the Leave camp.
In a surprise move ahead of Johnson’s announcement, Gove announced that he himself had decided to run for the leadership, after concluding that Johnson “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Gove, who was previously education secretary from 2010 to 2015, was the leading Leave campaigner within Cameron’s Cabinet.
Johnson’s decision means that five Conservative MPs will compete to replace Cameron, who announced his intention to resign after narrowly losing his campaign to persuade voters to remain in the EU in the national referendum last week.
They include three Cabinet ministers: Gove, Home Secretary Theresa May and Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb. Former defense secretary Liam Fox and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom are also running.