Boris Johnson’s Shock Withdrawal From The Tory Leadership Race: How It Happened

The first sign something was up was when Boris Johnson arrived by the back door. Normally a human camera magnet, the showiest of X-factor politicians, he bypassed all the waiting media gathered outside St Ermin’s Hotel in upmarket St James’, London.

It was a typically glamorous venue, as much full of political ‘bling’ as Home Secretary Theresa May’s own leadership launch location, a book-lined security think tank a mile away, typified her no-frills seriousness. Waiting in the Cloisters Suite, under the huge chandeliers, were rows of Boris supporters and he needed.  All the talk was of a ‘Bo-Go’ ticket, but friends of the former Education Secretary began to realise this was more ‘Go-Bo’ instead.

Johnson had already been under attack from other contenders in the race. In her consummately professional launch, Theresa May had ridiculed his water cannon deal with the German police. Earlier she had said: “Some need to be told that what the government does isn’t a game, it’s a serious business that has real consequences for people’s lives.” Boris was becoming a joke figure, wounded by his own inconsistency and disloyalty to Cameron.

Tory Minister and leadership candidate Stephen Crabb, who had mopped up key figures from the 2010 and 2015 intake, had a similar jibe at the ready. He said at his launch on Wednesday: “On the rainy rugby fields of West Wales I learnt that it’s not a question of just waiting for the ball to pop out from the back of the scrum. If you want it, you do what’s required.”  This morning, Boris couldn’t even catch that ball, dropping it between his very fingers, tripping up under his own incompetence and pushed in the back by his teammate.

One Downing Street source told me that it was ‘doubly tragic’ that Cameron had said he was going, and would not be changing his mind. “Boris f*cked it up. He didn’t ever back Brexit out of principle, he did it purely for the leadership and now he hasn’t even got the balls to stay and fight Gove.” There’s talk that if Boris backs May, she may offer him a junior post, but the consensus is that his career is finished.

Soon after his stunning announcement, one of Johnson’s closest political friends told me that Gove “put a bomb under us today”.  Yet others think he lit the fuse himself, several months ago. Whoever was to blame, the Blond Bombshell has finally imploded, and in spectacular fashion.

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