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Tories plunged into civil war as Boris Johnson pulls out of race to become PM

Champion of Brexit sensationally withdraws from running in Conservative contest at first hurdle as battle for the hearts and minds of faithful is stepped up after poll shock

By Jon Stone

The Conservative party has collapsed into accusations of betrayal and treachery as the party's first leadership contest in a decade gets under way.

Tensions are high after Boris Johnson sensationally dropped out of the race at the first hurdle following a shock intervention against his leadership bid from Cabinet minister Michael Gove.

The abrupt end to the former Mayor of London's campaign came after an acrimonious EU referendum campaign during which he was perceived as waging a proxy war for the leadership against David Cameron. In an extraordinary tirade, Michael Hesletine, a former cabinet minister, said Mr Johnson had caused chaos in the country only to back down at the last minute.

"I have never seen anything like it," he added during a visit to a conference in Manchester.

"He's ripped the Tory party apart. He has created the greatest constitutional crisis in peacetime in my life. He's knocked billions off the value of the savings of British people.

"He's like a general who marches his army to the sound of the guns and the moment he sees the battleground he abandons it. I have never seen anything like it, and he must be answerable for the consequences. But the pain of it will be felt by all of us, and, if it doesn't get resolved shortly, by the generations yet to come."

Tensions were also short on Mr Johnson's own side, however. Jake Berry, a Conservative MP in the inner circle of the former mayor's leadership campaign, tweeted with reference to Mr Gove: "There is a very deep pit reserved in Hell for such as he."

It followed accusations of betrayal by Mr Johnson's father, Stanley Johnson. Asked about Mr Gove's intervention, he quoted Caesar's supposed last words after he was stabbed by his former friend Brutus. "'Et tu Brute' is my comment on that," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One. "I don't think he is called Brutus, but you never know."

Mr Gove yesterday afternoon again repeated accusations that Mr Johnson could not provide the "team captaincy" required to lead the Conservative party and the country. Home Secretary Theresa May also took an apparent swipe at the former London Mayor yesterday morning, writing: "Some need to be told that what the Government does isn't a game - it's a serious business that has real consequences for people's lives."

Mr Johnson's departure from the race leaves Ms May as the favourite to win the race. She launched her leadership campaign yesterday morning.

The shock news came after George Osborne, who was previously seen as the anointed successor to David Cameron, ruled himself out of the race following the public's decision to back a Brexit in the EU referendum.

Though Mr Johnson is popular among Conservative party activists, the party's internal electoral system allows MPs to pick which two candidates their members can vote between.

Other candidates to declare in the race so far include Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, former defence secretary Liam Fox, and Andrea Leadsom.

The leadership election was called after Mr Cameron announced his resignation in the aftermath of the EU referendum result. The Prime Minister said it was right that a new Prime Minister should steer Britain's exit from the European Union and invoke article 50.

The five contenders


A quiet Remain backer who is seen as a steady hand to calm the party after its post-Brexit turbulence. The current Home Secretary’s campaign will be run by Chris Grayling. The Maidenhead MP is viewed as the favourite to succeed Mr Cameron. She said: “My pitch is very simple. I’m Theresa May and I think I’m the best person to be prime minister of this country.”


At Mr Johnson’s side for much of the Leave campaign. Mr Gove appeared to be throwing his support behind Mr Johnson’s leadership bid, before performing an incredible U-turn and running himself, saying he did not believe Mr Johnson could “provide the leadership” the Tories needed. Only a three hours after the Gove statement, Mr Johnson quit the contest.


Hugely popular among Conservatives and with the sort of ordinary background that chimes with voters. The Work and Pensions Secretary says the party should be led by someone "who understands the enormity of the situation we’re in and who has a clear plan to deliver on the expectations of the 17 million who voted to come out last week”.


Widely praised on for her effectiveness at getting to the bottom of the scale of mismanagement in banking during MPs’ questioning of Barclays chief Bob Diamond, the Energy Minister gave an assured performance for the Brexit side in the referendum campaign. The former banker and fund manager announced she was in the running, tweeting: “Let’s make the most of the Brexit opportunities!”


Mr Fox, who unsuccessfully sought the top job in 2005, was the first to confirm that he was considering a fresh bid. An outspoken supporter of Brexit, he would hope to win over the Right of the party. The former defence secretary resigned from the front benches in 2011 after allowing his friend and best man Adam Werritty to take on an unofficial and undeclared role as his adviser.

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