Boris Johnson confirms bid for leadership of Conservative Party

At a business conference in Manchester, former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that he would be standing for the leadership of the Conservative Party. He's the third to confirm a bid to succeed Theresa May.

Britain's former foreign minister, Boris Johnson, an influential campaigner to leave the European Union, said on Thursday that he planned to stand as a candidate to replace Prime Minister Theresa May as Conservative leader.

May has said she will step down before the next phase of Brexit negotiations although she has not yet put a date on her departure.

Boris Johnson seeks to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister

"Of course I'm going to go for it," Johnson said in response to questions from BBC journalist Huw Edwards at a meeting of the British Insurance Brokers' Association.

Johnson resigned from the Cabinet in July in protest at how May has handled the Brexit negotiations.

Brexit pace slow

As one of the more visible faces of the 2016 Brexit campaign, Johnson put forth his proposal to the membership in a speech at the party's annual conference in October, where some members queued for hours to get a seat.

The deal Prime Minister May struck with the EU has been rejected three times by the House of Commons, leading to the EU twice granting the UK an extension. The delay has also postponed May's departure. 

She announced this week that she would bring it back for a fourth and likely final time in the week beginning on June 3, hoping MPs feel extra pressure to break the deadlock after the two main parties take a drubbing in European Parliament elections. 

May promised at the third attempt in March to step aside once a Brexit agreement passed through Parliament. 

She also faced the influential group of Conservative MPs known as the 1922 Committee on Thursday. The group's chairman, Graham Brady, subsequently said that May had pledged to discuss a timetable to step down in June.  

This agreement was broadly seen as a compromise between May and her critics within the party, granting her a last shot at clearing Brexit's first major hurdle. Opposition Scottish National MP Ian Blackford quipped in Parliament: "The only thing we've learned from today's latest fudge is that Theresa May is so incompetent she can't even resign properly." 

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Three hats in the ring, so far

Johnson has been no stranger to scandal during his career as a political correspondent and subsequently as a politician. 

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

'Hello, is this the Armenian premier?'

In May 2018, Russian pranksters managed to hold an 18-minute long phone call with Johnson by pretending to be Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. During the call, Johnson said the UK would continue to squeeze the Russian regime by targeting London-based oligarchs. The pranksters also brought up the Skripals' poisoning in Salisbury, though Johnson mostly struck to his public pronouncements.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Ireland's post-Brexit border like London congestion charge

In February 2018, Boris Johnson likened the challenges posed by the Irish border post-Brexit to the boundaries between different London boroughs. The Irish opposition described the comments as extraordinary, adding that "trivializing the very serious concerns relating to Ireland displays a dangerous ignorance that must be challenged."

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson jeopardizes case for British-Iranian mother jailed in Iran

During a foreign affairs committee hearing in November 2017, Johnson said British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been detained in Tehran while "simply teaching people journalism." Her family criticized the foreign secretary for making reportedly misleading comments that jeopardized her case. Iran has long viewed the BBC's Persian broadcasting service as a subversive arm of MI6.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Libya's Sirte could be 'new Dubai' if they 'clear the dead bodies away'

Addressing a UK business forum in October 2017, Johnson told how fighting in Libya had prevented a group of investors from transforming the coastal city of Sirte "into the next Dubai." Johnson added that "the only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away." Downing Street chided him for his remarks, while Johnson accused his critics of having "no knowledge or understanding" of Libya.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson accused of 'incredible insensitivity' during Myanmar visit

Johnson was accused of "incredible insensitivity" during a state visit to Myanmar in September 2017, as he recited part of a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem in front of local dignitaries at a sacred Buddhist site. Visibly embarrassed, Britain's Myanmar ambassador forced the foreign secretary to stop halfway through his impromptu recital.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson compares France's Francois Hollande to POW guard

Johnson caused uproar early on in his career as foreign secretary by comparing then French President Francois Hollande to a WWII prisoner of war guard for seeking to punish the UK for leaving the EU. “If Mr Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape, rather in the manner of some World War II movie, I don’t think that is the way forward... ” said Johnson.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson likens EU project to Third Reich

In May 2016, as the Brexit campaign was entering its ill-tempered final phase, Johnson told media that European history was marked by repeated attempts to unify the continent. "Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically," Johnson said. “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods. But fundamentally ... there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe.”

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Obama accused of harboring 'ancestral dislike' of the UK

US President Barack Obama's intervention in the Brexit referendum in April 2016 provoked a furious reaction from Johnson. After Obama said the UK would be better off remaining part of the EU, Johnson described the US president "part Kenyan" and accused him of harboring an "ancestral dislike" of the United Kingdom.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

The president and the goat

After Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained about German comedian Jan Böhmermann calling him a "goat f---er" in March 2016, the UK's "Spectator" newspaper, which Johnson used to edit, ran a competition for readers to submit their own poems about Erdogan. Johnson's poem, in which he called the Turkish president from Ankara "a terrific wankerer," was awarded the £1,000 ($1,325, €1,127) prize.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

The 10-year-old victim of Johnson's competitive edge

In October 2015, Boris Johnson was forced to apologize as his competitive nature on the sports field saw him knock over a 10-year-old during what was supposed to be an informal game of rugby in Tokyo. Despite being bulldozed to the ground by the then-mayor of London, the young Toki Sekiguchi appeared unfazed by the incident, saying later he "enjoyed" meeting Johnson.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

The zip-line incident

Johnson sought to mark Team GB's first gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London with a high flying zip-line act. However, as he zipped across Victoria Park, the mayor lost momentum and came to a halt, leaving him dangling above a crowd of mystified onlookers. “I think they needed to test this on somebody going a bit faster,” he told onlookers, before urging them to get him a ladder.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Cannibalism in Papua New Guinea

Johnson was lampooned for one of his columns in "The Telegraph" in 2006, in which he compared infighting within the UK's Conservative and Labour parties to "Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing." Johnson issued an openly sarcastic apology, saying he did not mean to insult the people of Papua New Guinea, "who I am sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity."

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Johnson accuses Liverpool of wallowing in their Hillsborough 'victims' status'

As editor of the "Spectator" in 2004, Johnson claimed that drunken supporters of Liverpool football club were partly to blame for the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 fans lost their lives. Johnson went on to accuse Liverpudlians of wallowing in their "victims' status." A coroner's inquest concluded in 2016 that the supporters were unlawfully killed due to police negligence.

Boris Johnson's worst diplomatic gaffes

Racist portrayal of Africa colonies and DRC

In another column for the "Daily Telegraph" in 2002, Johnson wrote that the Queen loved the Commonwealth "partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies." Also writing ahead of Prime Minister Tony Blair's trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UK's future top diplomat described how "the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles."

Several other senior Conservatives are expected to enter the contest for the leadership as well, with the winner also becoming prime minister.

Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart, an advocate of a so-called "soft" Brexit, and former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey, who wants a "hard" Brexit, have announced they will run.

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 Secretary Michael Gove, Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has carried forward Johnson's gaffe-prone legacy since taking over the job.

Bookmakers currently believe that Johnson is the leading candidate to replace May, giving him a roughly 1-in-4 chance of claiming the job. Johnson was also seen as a frontrunner to succeed David Cameron in 2016, before surprisingly announcing he would not run.

av/msh (Reuters, AFP)

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