Michael Gove enters battle to lead Conservative party
Mr Johnson is the favourite to become the UK’s next prime minister as a Eurosceptic who many MPs believe is able to win over the party’s grassroots and take on Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party.
But Mr Gove, environment secretary, is casting himself as a bridge-builder and is expected to present himself as a “unity candidate”.
Speaking outside his home on Sunday morning, Mr Gove said: “I can confirm that I will be putting my name forward to be prime minister of this country. I believe that I’m ready to unite the Conservative and Union Party, ready to deliver Brexit, and ready to lead this great country.”
Alongside Boris Johnson, Mr Gove was one of the leading figures in the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In the subsequent 2016 Conservative leadership election he backed Mr Johnson but then dealt a severe blow to his chances by suddenly withdrawing his support.
Mr Gove has been criticised for backing the prime minister’s failed Brexit deal and allies fear this could limit his chances in the race.
Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and former House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, who both quit the cabinet in protest at Mrs May’s deal, also announced their candidacy on Sunday for a contest that is likely to include as many as 15 candidates.
They joined Mr Johnson, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, health secretary Matt Hancock, international development secretary Rory Stewart and Esther McVey, former work and pensions secretary.
Although the contest does not formally start for another two weeks, a number of senior Tory MPs are concerned that the campaign will become a Eurosceptic “arms race”, with candidates showing off their pro-Brexit credentials to win over the Tory party’s grassroots membership.
It looks set to be one of the most crowded fields for a Tory leadership election in decades.
Under the party’s rules, Tory MPs — who number 313 — select two candidates to go through to a run-off in which about 120,000 Conservative activists are allowed to vote.
Mr Johnson set the tone on Friday when he announced his intention to take the UK out of the EU on October 31 “deal or no deal”, ruling out the possibility of a further Brexit delay.
While Mr Gove has spoken in cabinet against a no-deal exit, Mr Raab said in the Mail on Sunday that the UK must demonstrate “unflinching resolve to leave” with or without an agreement.
Ms Leadsom has told the Sunday Times that a successful negotiation means being “prepared to walk away”.
But other candidates have said the UK should be focused on getting a deal. Mr Stewart, another centrist Tory who was recently promoted to the cabinet, said he could not serve in a government that pursued a no-deal Brexit or was led by Mr Johnson.
Mr Hunt told the Sunday Times that “doing deals is my bread and butter”, while Mr Hancock said on Saturday he would pursue “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border in Ireland while being honest about the choices “between sovereignty and market access and the trade-offs to get a deal through this parliament”.