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U.K. Political Shocker: Boris Johnson Won't Seek To Lead Tories


Well, another shocking turn of events in British politics this morning.


BORIS JOHNSON: Then having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that that person cannot be me.

GREENE: That was Boris Johnson, who was considered the front-runner to be the nation's next prime minister, saying that he will no longer be in the running for that job. The surprise announcement comes after Johnson's successful effort to win a vote to leave the European Union. This also comes at the most turbulent period in British politics in decades. NPR's Frank Langfitt has been covering this from London. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So we heard a little bit of what Boris Johnson had to say there. What else did he say?

LANGFITT: Well, let me just set the scene.

GREENE: Please, please.

LANGFITT: He was actually coming up against - yeah, no, it's another remarkable day here.


LANGFITT: He was coming up against the deadline, noon London time, to announce the nominations. And he had this long, rambling, populous message, and everybody was like sort of watching, going where's this headed? He was talking about helping the underclass, building a more tolerant Britain, which was kind of the opposite in some ways of that Brexit vote. And then he even talked about all that he'd done as a London mayor and the cranes in the city and the economy of the city.

And then, as you listen, it started to sound oddly like it was a valedictory, not that he was going to announce that he was running. And then he gave what he called the punchline, which he wasn't going to be seeking the Tory leadership. And this is, of course, the opposite of what everybody was expecting. And I got to tell you that watching Twitter before this happened there was no sign that this is what he was going to do.

GREENE: That's amazing. And let's just get a couple of facts. I mean, the Tory leadership, that would be the leadership of the Conservative Party, which he's a member of, and the leading party in Britain, which means members of that party select the prime minister. And everyone sort of thought that Boris Johnson would be leading that. I mean, here he is. He has a history in politics, you know, sort of seen as a rambunctious figure but, you know, a good record leading London as mayor of that city. Why would he not want this job?

LANGFITT: Well, it's been a crazy - you know, as we've been talking, it has been a crazy seven days here in the United Kingdom.


LANGFITT: And that answer, given that situation in Parliament, is very vague, and I think people will be parsing that much of the day. It's possible that he saw he really didn't have the support that he hoped for the other Tory members of Parliament. And to remind people, he would ultimately be replacing David Cameron, the outgoing prime minister. And there's been recently an online poll that showed that there was a lot more support for a woman named Theresa May, who's the home secretary, who actually backed remaining in the EU.

And so - but the other big factor was this morning - again, another big turn of events - a man named Michael Gove. He's the justice secretary. He had actually been running with Johnson up until just this morning into - for the conservative leadership. He turns around and says Boris Johnson can't lead. I'm going to run for leading the party and basically publicly stabbed Johnson in the back just two or three hours ago. And so it's possible that that also made Johnson really rethink whether he could succeed.

GREENE: Well, give us a little bit in the few seconds we have left. I mean, you say Theresa May, the home secretary, might be - might be a good candidate potentially. What would this mean for the party and for Britain?

LANGFITT: Well, I mean, the big thing is it's very, very important who leads this party going forward because the country politically is in disarray. And its future in the EU, they're going to - they're going to leave the EU but no one knows the terms of that. And the kind of deal that they cut is so important to the economy of this country. So the person that they put in charge is going to begin, sooner than later, maybe even as early as the fall, beginning to arrange and work out this Brexit. So getting the right candidate in there, people - that people trust, someone who can manage leaving the EU is enormously, enormously important.

GREENE: OK. We've been talking to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks a lot.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.