clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Boris Johnson won't run for prime minister, throws UK politics into chaos

Boris Johnson waving at podium
Boris Johnson was widely expected to be the next Prime Minister. Never mind!
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The bizarre roller coaster of post-Brexit United Kingdom politics took another twist on Thursday as Boris Johnson, the favorite to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron, announced that he won’t run for the position after all.

Johnson — the former London mayor whose populist appeal, Brexit support, and imperviousness to gaffes (not to mention physical resemblance) have drawn comparisons to Donald Trump — seemed like the politician best poised to benefit from the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. Cameron, who had supported staying in the UK, resigned after the vote, and Johnson was a popular member of Cameron’s party who helped lead the campaign to leave.

Johnson was usurped by a former ally, Michael Gove, the UK’s justice minister, who worked closely with him on the "Leave" campaign. Gove’s announcement was a surprise: He’d been expected to support Johnson and play a key role in his administration.

But Gove’s wife, a Daily Mail columnist, leaked an email to the public in which she advised Gove not to support Johnson without getting specific promises from him. Gove announced Thursday that he’d run for prime minister and immediately began siphoning away Johnson’s support.

Another Conservative, Theresa May, who oversees crime and immigration policy as Home secretary, was polling slightly ahead of Johnson before his announcement, and could now be the favorite in the prime minister’s race. (Three other candidates besides May and Gove are also running.)

May has overseen the UK’s tough new immigration policies, including a new requirement that non-EU citizens must earn at least 35,000 pounds (nearly $50,000) in order to stay in the UK. She once drove vans through immigrant neighborhoods with the message "go home or face arrest." But she also supported remaining in the European Union, and is considered the establishment candidate.

The Labour party is not in better shape

You might think the Labour Party, the major opposition party to the Conservatives, would be poised to take advantage of the party’s post-Brexit disarray. You would be wrong: Labour has been undergoing some serious drama of its own and is in the middle of a leadership crisis.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader whose support for remaining in the EU was halfhearted at best, is refusing to resign from party leadership despite losing a vote of no confidence by a landslide. The majority of his shadow Cabinet — the people who would lead various government departments if Labour won a majority in Parliament — has resigned.

Cameron himself urged Corbyn to step down, saying, "It might be in my party's interest for him to sit there. It's not in the national interest and I would say, for heaven's sake man, go." Angela Eagle, Corbyn’s former shadow business secretary, is reportedly announcing a leadership bid of her own today.

Britain is leaving the EU. Here's what that means.