British interior minister Theresa May announced her bid to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday, saying negotiations to leave the European Union should not begin before the end of the year.
“I’ve invited you here today to announce my candidacy to become leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister of the United Kingdom,” she said in a speech in London in which she also called for unity amid bitter rifts in the Conservative Party.
“Our country needs strong proven leadership to steer us through this period of political and economic uncertainty,” she said, adding: “We need leadership that can unite our party and our country”.
May also stressed there should be no general election until 2020 and ruled out a second referendum.
“Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict,” she said.
May spoke about invoking Article 50, the formal procedure for leaving the EU, which Cameron has left for his successor to do.
Tory leadership contenders: Theresa May https://t.co/GfjmrvtUEq
— Telegraph News (@TelegraphNews) June 30, 2016
“Article 50 should not be invoked before the end of the year,” she said.
Her main rival was widely expected to be charismatic MP Boris Johnson, with whom she has often clashed.
May launched a thinly veiled attack on the former London mayor and Leave campaigner during her announcement.
“As we conduct our negotiations it must be a priority to allow British companies to trade with the single market in goods and services but also to regain more control over the numbers of people coming here from Europe,” she said.
“Any attempt to wriggle out of that, especially from leadership candidates who campaigned to leave the EU by focussing on the issue of immigration, will be unacceptable to the public,” she added.
Since Thursday’s shock result, Johnson has taken a softer stance on immigration, arguing instead that the main driving force of voters was “control”.
May also insisted that she did not treat politics as a “game”, another barely concealed swipe at Johnson and his blustering image.
In a morning full of Machiavellian drama, Johnson’s referendum running mate Michael Gove dealt him another viscous blow by announcing he was also to run.
“Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead,” said Gove, who was tipped for a top job in any Johnson government.
Members currently favour May over Johnson by a margin of 37 percent to 27 percent, according to a YouGov poll published Thursday and bookmakers slashed her odds after Gove’s sensational intervention.