Michael Gove had been expected to back Boris Johnson, but stated that he cannot provide the leadership needed
British Justice Secretary Michael Gove has joined the race to be the next Tory leader, saying he does not believe Boris Johnson can "provide the leadership" for the task ahead.
Mr Gove repeatedly said he had no leadership ambitions, but he dropped the bombshell just hours before the nominations deadline on Thursday.
The declaration is seen as a blow for Mr Johnson, who was expected to stand with the backing of Mr Gove.
The pair campaigned side by side during the EU referendum campaign to secure the shock Brexit victory.
But Mr Gove said events since last week had "weighed heavily with me" and led him to change his mind.
"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," he said in a statement.
"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."
Just weeks ago, during a live TV debate ahead of the EU referendum, he had insisted "count me out" and told voters: "I'll tell you this, whatever posters you put up on your wall, don't put one up of me. I'm not the sort of person you want to have when you wake up, on your bedroom wall."
Another Brexiteer, Andrea Leadsom, has announced she was throwing her hat into the ring also, tweeting: "Let's make the most of the Brexit opportunities!"
And was swiftly followed by British Home Secretary Theresa May - deemed by many to be Mr Johnson's main rival in the race to be the next Prime Minister - who pledged to unite both the Conservative Party and the country.
"We need a bold new positive vision for our country...the country needs strong leadership and a clear sense of direction," she said.
Mrs May backed Remain - but did so in a less provocative way than many of her senior Tory colleagues and was careful not to alienate either side.
In a move to garner the support of the eurosceptics in her party, she asserted: "Brexit means Brexit...there must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum."
"The country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government and Parliament to make sure we do just that."
She said there should be no general election until 2020 and no "Brexit budget", adding Article 50 - which sets into motion the two-year window for leaving the EU - should not be triggered before the end of this year.
"You can judge me by my record," she said. "We have immediate work to do. Together, we, the Conservative Party, can build a better Britain."
In the first poll of Tory members since the EU referendum, carried out by YouGov, Mrs May has a 17-point lead over Mr Johnson.
Asked if there would be a job for Mr Johnson in her Cabinet if she were to win, she replied: "I am being clear, I am not going around offering jobs to individuals of any sort."
Yesterday former defence secretary Liam Fox and the Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb - whose running mate is Business Secretary Sajid Javid - put themselves forward.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who have also both indicated they could stand, have until the close of nominations at midday to make up their minds.
Meanwhile the former UK shadow business secretary Angela Eagle is expected to launch her challenge later to replace Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the British Labour Party.
She is expected to announce she will run against the Labour leader if he has not said he is standing down.
Deputy leader Tom Watson said earlier he would not stand against Mr Corbyn but has been attempting to persuade him to step down.
He said: "My party is in peril, we are facing an existential crisis and I just don't want us to be in this position because I think there are millions of people in this country who need a left-leaning government."
It comes after the big four unions that back the Labour Party said they recognise the need for a leadership election but will continue to offer support for Mr Corbyn.
Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell, meanwhile, said Mr Corbyn "is defiant" and is "up for a leadership challenge".
On Tuesday night, 172 Labour MPs backed a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons, with just 40 voting against it.
Despite this Mr Corbyn is refusing to stand down leading to a move to increase the number of supporters likely to vote against him with a website being created called SavingLabour.com, to help people lobby their MP or constituency party chairman.