Ever the showman, Boris Johnson called it the “punchline” when he announced he could not be the person to lead the UK. A unifying figure was needed for the country, he said, and “that person cannot be me.”
“Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I’ve concluded that person cannot be me,” Johnson said in London, thanking his friends watching for their patience in waiting for the “punchline” to his speech.
His announcement came just hours after Michael Gove – thought by many to be a logical candidate to run alongside Johnson on an “all-Brexit” ticket – said he would be seeking the leadership role for himself.
Gove’s potential candidacy became apparent on Wednesday, when an email from his wife “accidentally” landed in the public domain. In it, Gove’s partner, Sarah Vine, urged her husband to demand “SPECIFICS” from Johnson before agreeing to run alongside him. She noted that conservative media moguls like Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre “instinctively dislike Boris but trust your ability enough to support a Boris-Gove ticket.”
On announcing his intentions earlier on Thursday, Gove said that Johnson “cannot provide the leadership for the task ahead.”
Populist turned part-pariah
Johnson, the colorful former classmate of still-Prime Minister David Cameron at private school Eton College and then Oxford University, became the Leave campaign’s most prominent supporter in the UK’s EU referendum. He was criticized, however, for taking a side based on personal gain, with opponents pointing out that as recently as February, he had questioned the sense of holding an EU referendum at all.
In the aftermath of the surprise Brexit vote, Johnson had come in for further criticism, as he seemed to shy away from the limelight, occasionally appearing to issue reassurances that flew in the face of developments on the stock markets and currency exchange rates. His decision not to run elicited similar derision.