London (CNN) Having spearheaded Britain’s surprise exit from the EU, Conservative politician Boris Johnson delivered a further bombshell Thursday when he announced he would not be running to replace outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron.
Living up to his reputation as a political maverick, the former London mayor — who had been considered a favorite to take Cameron’s job — told a shocked room full of journalists in London that he would not be running.
Former London mayor Boris Johnson says he will not stand to succeed David Cameron
After outlining the demands of the role over the course of a lengthy speech, Johnson announced: “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that that person cannot be me.”
The Conservative MP and former London mayor was a leading voice in the campaign to lead Britain out of the European Union — an endeavor many saw as partly an effort to position himself as the future leader of the ruling Conservative Party, and of the country.
The decision was met with disbelief by many observers.
“Undoubtedly (people are) going to feel let down that he’s not standing,” said CNN political contributor Robin Oakley, adding that he had spoken to many voters over the course of the campaign who had decided to vote Leave due to the intervention of Johnson, the larger-than-life former journalist.
“Something’s gone badly wrong here,” Oakley said, referring to the apparent split between Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who had campaigned closely together in leading the Leave camp.
In a surprise move ahead of Johnson’s announcement, Gove announced that he himself had decided to run for the leadership, after concluding that Johnson “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Gove, who was previously education secretary from 2010 to 2015, was the leading Leave campaigner within Cameron’s Cabinet.
British Justice Secretary Michael Gove leaves his home in London ahead of announcing his leadership bid
Johnson’s decision means that five Conservative MPs will compete to replace Cameron, who announced his intention to resign after narrowly losing his campaign to persuade voters to remain in the EU in the national referendum last week.
They include three Cabinet ministers: Gove, Home Secretary Theresa May and Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb. Former defense secretary Liam Fox and Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom are also running.
May: Unity needed
May, Britain’s internal affairs chief since 2010, was expected to be the main rival to Johnson for the Conservative leadership, said Oakley. A Euroskeptic who voted Remain, she and Gove now appear to be the frontrunners to be Britain’s next PM.
British Home Secretary Theresa May launches her bid to become the next Conservative leader
Announcing her candidacy at an event in central London Thursday, she said post-referendum Britain needed “strong, proven leadership to steer us through this period of economic and political uncertainty and to negotiate the best possible terms as we leave the European Union.”
“We need leadership that can unite our party and our country,” she said.
“With the Labour Party tearing itself to pieces and divisive nationalists in Scotland and Wales, it is nothing less than the patriotic duty of our party to unite and govern in the best interest of the whole country.”
Gove had campaigned closely with Johnson for a Brexit, but said he had decided to run himself after concluding that Johnson “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Crabb, a Cabinet minister and MP for the Welsh electorate of Preseli Pembrokeshire, announced his leadership ambitions at a news conference on Wednesday.
“On the rainy rugby fields of west Wales I learned that it’s not a question of waiting for the ball to pop out the back of the scrum — if you want it, you do what’s required and you get your hands on it,” said Crabb, who supported the Remain campaign.
MP Liam Fox, the former defense secretary who resigned from the government in 2011, put his hat into the ring Wednesday, while Leadsom announced her candidacy via Twitter Thursday. Both MPs supported the Leave vote.
“Delighted to say I’m running for the @Conservatives Leadership. Let’s make the most of the Brexit opportunities! #FreshStart,” she wrote.