The Justice Secretary, who had been expected to back fellow Leave campaigner Mr Johnson, said that he had “reluctantly” come to the conclusion that the former London mayor “cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.
It comes after tensions within the Johnson-Gove camp were laid bare by the emergence of a private email from Mr Gove’s wife, the Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, in which she urged her husband to get “specific” assurances from Mr Johnson or else withhold his support.
Announcing that he would put his name forward for the leadership less than three hours before nominations closed, Mr Gove said he would lay out a plan for the country outside of the EU “which I hope can provide unity and change”.
Earlier this month, Mr Gove stated: "The one thing I can tell you – there are lots of talented people who could be prime minister after David Cameron, but count me out."
Addressing that, Mr Gove acknowledged that though he had “repeatedly” insisted he did not want to be Prime Minister, he said events since the referendum vote had “weighed heavily”.
“I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership,” he said. “In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.
“But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
There had been growing concern among Brexit-backing MPs around the Johnson leadership bid, with his camp accused of arrogance and expecting a coronation, without giving a clear plan for Britain’s new relationship with the EU.
There was also intense speculation about splits within the Johnson camp sparked by the Sarah Vine email. Reportedly sent in error to a member o the public and then handed to Sky News. The email, sent to Mr Gove’s team, urged them to get “SPECIFIC [sic] assurances from Boris OTHERWISE you cannot guarantee your support”.
It also claims that Gove has the trust of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch who, Ms Vine writes, “instinctively dislike Boris.”
The email ends: “Do not concede any ground. Be your stubborn best.”
In a further blow to Mr Johnson, Leave campaigner and energy minister Andrea Leadsom also confirmed she would be standing for the leadership, in a move that could further split the vote among Brexit-backing MPs.
Along with former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, there are now three Brexit-backing figures in the Tory leadership race, along with Remain backers Theresa May and Stephen Crabb.
Michael Gove’s statement in full:
"The British people voted for change last Thursday. They sent us a clear instruction that they want Britain to leave the European Union and end the supremacy of EU law. They told us to restore democratic control of immigration policy and to spend their money on national priorities such as health, education and science instead of giving it to Brussels. They rejected politics as usual and government as usual. They want and need a new approach to running this country.
"There are huge challenges ahead for this country but also huge opportunities. We can make this country stronger and fairer. We have a unique chance to heal divisions, give everyone a stake in the future and set an example as the most creative, innovative and progressive country in the world.
"If we are to make the most of the opportunities ahead we need a bold break with the past.
"I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be Prime Minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me.
"I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership. In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.
"But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.
"I have, therefore, decided to put my name forward for the leadership. I want there to be an open and positive debate about the path the country will now take. Whatever the verdict of that debate I will respect it. In the next few days I will lay out my plan for the United Kingdom which I hope can provide unity and change."
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