Nominations for the Conservative Party leadership closed at noon British Summer Time today, and five hats are now in the ring. Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Home Secretary Theresa May, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, MP Liam Fox and Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb each has announced an interest in succeeding David Cameron. Missing from that list is Boris Johnson, who surprised everyone with a speech just before the deadline that was slated to be a launch of his campaign but turned out to be a withdrawal. From here, the parliamentary party will select two of the five, and then a postal vote will be held in which the broader party will select the new party leader. This person will also become Prime Minister when Mr. Cameron’s resignation becomes effective on September 9.
The big surprise, of course, was Mr. Johnson’s decision not to try for the brass ring. In his speech, the former Mayor of London said the next Tory leader would have to unite the party and negotiate a good deal on exiting the EU. “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in Parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me,” he said.
His decision may have been made after he learned that Michael Gove would be entering the race. The two formed the faces of the Leave campaign, and Mr. Gove had been expected to back Mr. Johnson. According to the BBC, Conservative MP David Davis told BBC Radio 5 Live Mr Gove’s decision must have been taken “very late”, as Mr Gove’s assistant had asked him on Wednesday night to attend Mr Johnson’s campaign launch on Thursday.
The Beeb added Justice minister and Leave campaigner Dominic Raab, who switched his support from Mr Johnson to Mr Gove, told the BBC’s Daily Politics that “Boris was cavalier with assurances he made” and had failed to put together a “strong unifying team”.
In the end, Mr. Johnson is a supremely good politician, and that requires that one be able to count. With Mr. Gove involved, he risked losing. As things stand, he is young enough to try again later.
The race now comes down to Ms. May and Mr. Gove. Mr. Crabb is 43 and is considered a rising star on the British right. However, the MPs who will choose the two on the postal ballot are more likely to seek a more experienced hand at this stage, and he backed Remain. Andrea Leadsom has been a junior minister at the Treasury and was made a junior minister in the energy and climate change department in May last year. She, too, is a bit too new to take over, but she did back Leave. Liam Fox could be something of a dark horse. Former Minister of Defence, he backed Leave, and is not part of the cabinet having resigned over a lobbying dispute in 2011. He finished third in the 2005 leadership fight, and could be a compromise candidate.
No matter who becomes party leader and PM, it is clear, as Ms. May said, that “Brexit means Brexit.” There isn’t going to be any back-peddling on this. As the likely candidate from the Remain campaign, those words of hers are going to stick if she wins, and if she doesn’t, she is going to lose to someone who wanted out anyway (Mr. Crabb is simply implausible). There may be a delay in invoking Article 50, by which a nation can withdraw from the EU, but that will simply be to allow a strategy for negotiation to emerge.
The Remain option is fading, and without a general election, this journal deems it dead. Mr. Johnson, however, lives to fight another day.