"Whatever charisma is I don't have it," went one of the more memorable lines from the speech in which Michael Gove launched his bid for an office that demands quite a lot of it — leader of the party in control of the government of the United Kingdom, and therefore its next prime minister. Gove officially launched his bid for Conservative leadership on Friday, as his country reels through the crisis unleashed by the June 24 referendum vote to leave the European Union.
Gove, the justice secretary and Lord Chancellor under incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron, who is stepping down, described himself as a "reluctant candidate." Nevertheless, Gove says he made a decision at the final hour on Wednesday night that he was the best person to guide Britain through its divorce from the EU. He also promised to replace free movement with an Australian-style points system for immigration.
In his lengthy 13-page speech, Gove vowed to allocate £100 million ($132 million) per week to the embattled National Health System – a promise that had a slightly hollow ring to it after the Vote Leave campaign, which Gove masterminded, said exiting the European Union would mean an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS. (In the hours after the referendum results came in, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, another leading Vote Leave campaigner, dismissed that promise as a "mistake.")
Thursday has been widely described as some variation on a "Tory Day of Treachery" – and Gove cast as a Machiavellian villain who knifed his old friend Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and the Leave campaign's top face, in the back. Gove shocked the country when he announced his own plans to join the race for prime minister, and in doing so, sabotaged Boris Johnson's leadership bid by withdrawing his support.
Johnson was the presumed favorite to replace Cameron and made no secret of his ambitions for 10 Downing Street.
Hours after Gove's surprise announcement, Johnson delivered a convoluted speech at a luxury hotel in London in which his supporters expected him to officially launch his own campaign. Instead, Johnson made a reference to Brutus from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and said he would not be joining the race.
Ever since, Johnson has been slammed as as a coward by critics who wanted to remain in the EU. His support for Brexit was seen as pivotal to the movement's success, but to what extent he actually wanted to leave the EU is unclear. In his weekly column for the Telegraph on Monday, Johnson offered a watered-down vision of post-Brexit Britain that was a far cry from the one he painted before the referendum. Johnson was heckled as he left his house this morning by reporters. One asked, "What have you done to this country?"
"Seems alright to me," Johnson replied.
Great job @RonBrown01 who did a great job doorstepping a somewhat despondent Boris Johnson outside his home this AMhttps://t.co/flniQa7igO
— Julia Macfarlane (@juliamacfarlane) July 1, 2016
Gove urged Brits before the referendum to disregard all expert opinion which warned that leaving the EU could be a colossal mistake, with enormous economic and political ramifications.
Gove slept soundly through the night of the referendum, according to his wife Sarah Vine, a columnist for pro-Brexit tabloid The Daily Mail.
At around 4.45am, Vine wrote, the phone rang to inform Gove that Britain had voted to exit the EU. "There was a short pause while he put on his glasses," Vine recalled. 'Gosh,' he said. 'I suppose I had better get up.'"
Vine, who has been dubbed Lady Macbeth, also "accidentally" emailed a member of the public earlier this week with a message intended for her husband, in which she expresses concerns about Johnson's leadership ability and trustworthiness.
Gove has repeatedly insisted he would make a terrible prime minister, and has publicly ruled it out as an option at least nine times. "I could not be prime minister, " Gove told the BBC four years ago. "I'm not equipped to be prime minister, I don't want to be prime minister."
Beyond the Gove-Johnson feud, Home Secretary Theresa May also announced her plans to run for office. May wanted to remain in the EU; her "pinned Tweet" until Thursday was "I can't live, if living is without EU."
Also joining the race are Stephen Crabb, the work and pensions secretary; Andrea Leadsom, the energy minister; and Liam Fox, the former secretary of defense.