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Gove challenges May in UK Conservative leadership race as Johnson rules out bid

Leon Neal, AFP| Brexit campaigner and former London mayor Boris Johnson waves after addressing a press conference in central London on June 30, 2016.

British Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Minister Michael Gove declared Thursday their candidacies to succeed David Cameron as prime minister and Conservative Party leader, as ex-London mayor Boris Johnson unexpectedly ruled out a bid.

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Johnson was the clear bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Cameron, but many within the right-wing party saw his decision to back the "Leave" European Union campaign as a betrayal of the prime minister.

"Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I've concluded that person cannot be me," Johnson said in a live televised speech in central London.

During his speech he stated of Brexit, "The prophets of doom were wrong then and they are wrong now. London and the whole UK will flourish mightily outside the EU."

Unfit to lead

It was common knowledge in political circles that May, a Tory party heavyweight, would throw her hat into the ring, but Gove was widely expected to support former London mayor Boris Johnson for the job.

“I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris [Johnson] cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead,” Gove wrote in a column announcing his leadership bid on the Spectator magazine’s website.

Gove, 48, added, "I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be Prime Minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me."

'Brexit means Brexit'

May, 69, said shortly after Gove's statement at a press conference announcing her candidacy, “our country needs strong proven leadership” which includes negotiating “the best possible terms” for the UK leaving the EU.

The Home Secretary also said there should be no decision to invoke Article 50 before the end of this year when the UK's negotiating terms are clear.

"Brexit means Brexit," she also said. “There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.”

No early general election?

May also said there should be no national election before 2020, the scheduled date for the end of the current parliament, and that there should be no emergency budget measures to offset the economic shock due to Brexit.

Prominent Brexiter and junior energy minister Andrea Leadsom also announced her bid for the Conservative Party leadership on Thursday.

The other two candidates who have entered the contest are Minister for Work and Pensions Stephen Crabb and Member of Parliament for North Somerset Liam Fox.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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