Boris on his bike: Johnson deserts cause, pulls out of Tory leadership race

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In an unexpected turn of events, Brexiteer and former mayor of London Boris Johnson has pulled out of the Tory leadership contest.

Speaking at a conference on Thursday, he was expected to announce his intention to run to become Britain’s next prime minister after David Cameron resigned last week.

His surprise announcement comes after fellow Brexiteer and Justice Secretary Michael Gove said he no longer supported Johnson and would be running for the leadership himself.

"Last week, the people of this country voted to take a new path and a new direction for Britain, in a decision that I passionately support," Johnson said.

"It is vital now to see this moment for what it is. This is not a time to quail, it is not a crisis, nor should we see it as an excuse for wobbling or self-doubt, but it is a moment for hope and ambition for Britain. A time not to fight against the tide of history, but to take that tide at the flood, and sail on to fortune."

But Johnson said he is not the right person to unite the party: “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that that person cannot be me.”

He added:“My role will be to give every possible opportunity to the next Conservative administration to make sure that we properly fulfil the mandate of the people that was delivered at the referendum and to champion the agenda that I believe in, to stick up for the forgotten people of this country.”

Gove had been expected to run on the same ticket as Johnson, after the pair led the UK's 'Leave' campaign.

But on Thursday, Gove said "Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead."

Gove has repeatedly ruled out making a bid for Downing Street in the past, but said events since the referendum had “weighed heavily with me.”

According to the Guardian, Gove decided late on Wednesday night that he could no longer support Johnson's bid for Tory leadership, saying he did not have the "grip" necessary to run Number 10.

Over the last week, the Gove camp had become concerned about how "chaotic" Johnson was, it has been reported.

The newspaper says there were various people Johnson was supposed to be bringing into the campaign who failed to come on board, and Johnson's Telegraph article on Monday had not been cleared with colleagues.

There has also been speculation that Gove abandoned Johnson because he felt he was going to backtrack on Brexit.

Gove tried to call Johnson on Thursday morning to tell him he would not be supporting his campaign, but could not get hold of him.

On Thursday morning, before Johnson's announcement, a number of MPs who had previously been 'Boris backers' defected to Gove's campaign.

They include Justice Minister Dominic Raab, Minister of State Nick Boles and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Johnson's unexpected announcement that he would not stand as Tory leader or prime minister, positions he is long thought to have harboured ambitions for, has dramatically altered the race.

The unexpected turn of events could benefit another candidate, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who laid out her case on Thursday for why she should lead the party.

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb and former Defence Secretary Liam Fox have also thrown their hats in the ring.

After Britain voted for Brexit last Thursday, outgoing prime minister David Cameron announced he would stand down as the Conservative Party's leader, saying his successor should be elected by the time of the party's conference in October.

Nominations for the contest opened on Wednesday evening, and candidates had until noon on Thursday to come forward.

The winner is expected to be announced on 9 September.