LONDON: Leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson on Thursday 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 leadership contest in the ruling Conservative Party 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 its unity as support for independence surged in pro-EU Scotland.
The maverick Johnson had been tipped as a favorite 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 honor the referendum outcome and lead Britain out of the bloc.
In a boost to her fledgling campaign, the mass-selling Daily Mail newspaper endorsed her candidacy under the headline: “A party in flames and why it must be Theresa.”
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 criticizing 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”.
After an 11-minute speech trumpeting his achievements as London mayor and outlining his vision for Britain, Johnson left the punchline for the end.
“Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I’ve concluded that person cannot be me,” he told shocked supporters.
He also appeared to quote some of the words spoken by Brutus before he killed Julius Caesar in the Shakespeare play—quickly interpreted by political commentators as a reference to Gove’s actions.
Observers were left stunned by the dizzying events in the corridors of power, where opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn is clinging on to his job despite a mass revolt by his party’s MPs.
The veteran socialist has been accused of not campaigning hard enough to stay in the EU, but insists he still has the support of party members.
As the political drama played out, Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned about “heightened uncertainty” following the “Leave” campaign’s victory.
Carney said the Brexit vote could increase unemployment and warned there were also “risks of adverse spillovers to the global economy.”