May 16, 2019 / 1:05 PM / 9 days ago

Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson to stand as next Conservative leader

LONDON (Reuters) - Boris Johnson, the face of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, said on Thursday he will be standing as a candidate to replace Prime Minister Theresa May as Conservative leader.

Boris Johnson attends the 2019 British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA) conference in Manchester, Britain May 16, 2019, in this handout photo obtained by Reuters on May 16, 2019. COURTESY BIBA 2019 CONFERENCE/Handout via REUTERS

May will set out a timetable for her departure in early June after the latest attempt to get her Brexit deal approved by parliament, meaning a leadership contest is likely to take place during the summer. [nL5N22R6DR}

“I am going for it, of course, I am going for it,” Johnson told the BBC. “I don’t think that is any particular secret to anybody.”

The winner of the leadership contest will automatically become prime minister and will take control of the Brexit process, which has plunged Britain into its worst political crisis since World War Two.

Johnson was widely expected to run for the Conservative leadership in the aftermath of the Brexit vote in 2016 but his campaign collapsed before he announced he was standing when an ally withdrew support amid claims he could not unite the party.

Two weeks later he was made foreign minister, but resigned from the cabinet last July in protest at May’s handling of the exit negotiations.

Johnson has been one of May’s most outspoken critics over Brexit and supports leaving the EU without a deal, a scenario the government’s own economic forecasts have warned would leave the British economy 8 percent smaller by 2035.

The former Mayor of London was widely expected to run and set out his pitch to the Conservative membership in a speech at the party’s annual conference last October.

Betting odds indicate he is the leading candidate to replace May and has a 28 percent chance of being the next prime minister.

If Johnson became prime minister it would cap an eventful career for the man invariably referred to simply as “Boris”, known in Britain and beyond for his clownish persona and disheveled mop of blond hair.

He has a long record of gaffes and scandals. As foreign minister, he compared the French president to a World War Two guard administering punishment beatings and was caught on camera reciting a colonial-era poem in a sacred temple in Myanmar.

Several senior Conservatives are expected to enter the contest for the leadership.

The international development minister Rory Stewart and former work and pensions minister Esther McVey have announced they will run and leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom has said she is “considering” standing.

Other possible contenders include former and current members of the cabinet, including environment minister Michael Gove, the interior minister Sajid Javid and foreign minister Jeremy Hunt.

Editing by Stephen Addison/Guy Faulconbridge

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