Post-Brexit, Both Of Great Britain’s Major Parties Are In Crisis Mode
The turmoil in British politics in the wake of last week’s Brexit vote continues, with the latest development being that Conservative firebrand and leader of the ‘Leave’ campaign Boris Johnson surprising everyone with the announcement that he will not be a candidate to replace David Camerson as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister:
LONDON — The question of who will lead Britain into its future outside the European Union — a muddled mess for nearly a week — was further scrambled Thursday, with the camp that had favored an exit splintering into warring tribes and forcing former London mayor Boris Johnson to drop from the contest to become prime minister.
The latest whiplash in British politics pushes the flamboyant Johnson to the margins and sets up a showdown within the governing Conservatives to replace Prime Minister David Cameron, who is stepping down in the wake of the E.U. snub by British voters.
The choice cuts across the lines of the referendum: Go with a party insider who broke with Cameron and championed the anti-E.U. side, or stick with a Cameron loyalist and pick Britain’s first female leader since Margaret Thatcher.
Until Thursday morning, the race had been shaping up as a likely standoff between Johnson, the mop-headed rogue who favored “leave,” and Theresa May, the no-nonsense domestic security chief who had backed “remain.”
But Michael Gove, the bookish justice secretary who was regarded as the intellectual architect of the “leave” campaign, shocked the country’s political establishment Thursday by announcing that he, too, would enter the fray.
Later — and just minutes before the deadline to formally join the pack to occupy 10 Downing Street — Johnson bowed out.
Gove had been expected to serve as Johnson’s campaign manager, uniting the two men who had been the most prominent Conservative backers for Brexit, as a British departure from the European Union is popularly known.
But he apparently had a last-minute change of heart, saying he had come “to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Gove, who has been nearly invisible since last Thursday’s referendum to exit the European Union, did not release any detailed vision for the country’s future. He said his “plan for the United Kingdom which I hope can provide unity and change” would be unveiled “in the coming days.”
Johnson, who had widely been considered the favorite to take the keys to Downing Street, has also made himself scarce since the vote, largely avoiding the media.
But in a speech Thursday, Johnson delivered an extensive defense of his record as London mayor and said the country needed someone to lead the country to a fairer and more prosperous future outside the European Union.
It appeared that he was preparing to announce his entry into the race to be prime minister, and several British media outlets reported that was exactly what it was. As the speech came to a close, however, Johnson delivered a stunner, saying that “in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”
Johnson’s choice to opt out was an extraordinary development for a man who has made little secret that he covets the top job in British politics.
Gove’s decision was equally astonishing.
His announcement that he will stand for prime minister, despite earlier support for Johnson, is just the latest in a Shakespearean string of betrayals at the highest reaches of British politics. First Johnson and Gove turned their backs on Cameron, their friend and sparring partner since their days at Oxford. Then Gove, who campaigned for Brexit beside Johnson for months, turned the knife on the former London mayor.
“You couldn’t make it up,” Tory member of Parliament Nigel Evans told the BBC. “It makes the ‘House of Cards’ look like ‘Teletubbies.’ ”
More from The Guardian:
Boris Johnson has unexpectedly ruled himself out of the Conservative leadership race hours after his key ally Michael Gove announced a challenge for the top job, on a turbulent morning.
Speaking at a hotel in central London, where he had been expected to launch his candidacy, Johnson gave an upbeat speech, saying the agenda for the next prime minister was for the UK to become a more outward-looking nation that resets its relationship with Europe.
But he went on to say: “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”
Despite having been the leading public face in the victorious Vote Leave campaign, Johnson appeared to have concluded that he could not command enough support from his party, after a series of key MPs, including business minister Nick Boles, and pro-Brexit Dominic Raab, defected to the Gove camp.
“My role will be to give every possible support 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,” he said.
And, if we do so, if we invest in our children and improve their life chances, if we continue to fuel the engines of social mobility, if we build on the great reforming legacy of David Cameron, if we invest in our infrastructure and we follow a sensible, one-nation Conservative approach that is simultaneously tax-cutting and pro-enterprise, then I believe that this country can win and be better and more wonderful and, yes, greater than ever before.”
Gove announced his candidacy shortly after 9am, after calling a handful of Conservative MPs to his office in Westminster to tell them of his last-minute decision to stand.
Johnson has been noticeably absent from the chamber of the House of Commons since last Thursday’s shock referendum result, and had given little idea of the kind of deal he hoped to do with the other EU member states.
The final showdown is now likely to be between the home secretary, Theresa May, and Gove, who said in a statement on Thursday morning that Johnson “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.
Nominations formally closed at noon, and the chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, announced that there were five candidates, including the work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, the pro-Brexit energy minister Andrea Leadsom and former defence secretary Liam Fox, as well as May and Gove.
Johnson’s decision not to run is surprising simply because it has been apparent since he sought to return to Parliament as part of the slate of candidates put up by the Tories during last year’s General Election and the victory by the ‘Leave’ forces that he stepped up to lead was widely seen as the perfect opportunity for him to step into the role quickly, although I don’t think that anyone anticipated that the opportunity would come this quickly given that David Cameron’s post-Brexit resignation was not something that many people seemed to anticipate. Once it materialized, though, the consensus seemed to be that Johnson would take the chance to run for the position since it was arguably an ideal time for him given his role in the ‘Leave’ campaign and the fact that the next Prime Minister would seemingly need to be someone with credibility on the ‘Leave’ side of the Brexit debate and there were few people in the Conservative Party more active in that debate than Boris Johnson, What motivated him to change his mind is unclear, but the most likely answer is that he concluded that he was not going to have sufficient support inside the party to win and that staying out of the race was his best option at this point. Additionally, the fact that the man who was supposed to be Johnson’s chief lieutenant in a bid for party leadership ended up stabbing him in the back and launching his own bid likely took the wind out of Johnson’s sails for the time being. Perhaps he’ll be back in the future, but for now Johnson will have to put his ambition to be Prime Minister on hold.
As it stands, it appears that the race for Conservative Party leader will end up coming down to Home Secretary Theresa May and Gove, who serves as Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister in David Cameron’s candidate. May was, at least nominally, a supporter of ‘Remain’ during the Brexit campaign but has said that she will honor the outcome of the vote as party leader and is widely considered to be the front-runner in the race to replace Cameron. Contrary to some suggestions that it would be necessary to call elections in the wake of the Brexit vote and the selection of a new Conservative Party leader, May has said that is she were party leader there would be no elections before the one required by law in 2020. May has also rejected the idea of a do-over vote on EU membership. Gove, of course, was a campaigner for ‘Leave’ but it’s not at all clear that this would aid him in a bid to overtake May to become party leader. Indeed, his entry into the race appears to be a surprise to everyone that further throws the situation into chaos to the point that party members could see uniting quickly behind May as the best option. If successful, May would become the second female leader of the Conservative Party, and second female Prime Minister, in British history.
Thing aren’t much calmer over in the Labour Party. It’s been several days now since Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn lost a no-confidence vote among Labour MPs and he still shows no sign of leaving even as more and more of his support slips away and other MPs appear to be preparing for a bid to challenge him for party leader. In the latest controversy, Corbyn is being accused of equating Israel with the Islamic State in public remarks, an accusation that bolsters past charges of anti-Semitism on the part of him and his more hard-core supporters. At the very least, this is hardly the kind of controversy needs given the fact that he seems certain to face a leadership challenge in the near future and many of the leaders of his own party do not believe he is the right person to lead the party heading into a possible General Election, or even going forward generally. Given the fact that Corbyn is holding his ground, it’s likely that things will get messy inside Labour in the coming weeks at the very least. Where British politics ends up after all this has sorted itself out is anybody’s guess.
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