Michael Gove reiterates he 'did not want' Tory leadership, as he launches campaign

He is one of five other candidates with their names in the running

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Leave campaigner Michael Gove arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London | Image: Matt Dunham / AP/Press Association Images

The British Justice Secretary Michael Gove has admitted he never thought he would be in a position to run for leader of the Conservative Party.

"I never thought I'd be in this position, I did not want it", he told a news conference in London.

But he says he reached the decision after asking himself "What is the right thing to do? What does your heart tell you?".

He also says that is how he faced "the central question of this parliament - the European referendum."

He, along with four others, has put his name forward to replace David Cameron as British Prime Minister.

However his rival, British Home Secretary Theresa May, has won the backing of a number of senior Tories in the race.

With supporters of the one-time frontrunner Boris Johnson up for grabs for the five contenders, Mrs May secured endorsements from cabinet colleagues Michael Fallon and Patrick McLoughlin.

Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock - a close ally of British Chancellor George Osborne - also came out for Mrs May on Thursday night.

Mr Gove made a last-minute decision to enter the race, and forced his Vote Leave partner Boris Johnson to drop out.

Laying out his support for the Home Secretary, Mr Fallon said: "As Defence Secretary, I've worked closely with Theresa on security and she is the right person to steer Britain through the serious challenges we now face."

"Theresa is the best person to lead our exit from the EU so that we reduce immigration and regain sovereignty while protecting our hard won economic growth."
"She has the track record, the temperament and the commitment to unite both the party and the country behind a clear plan for our future."

"Deep pit reserved in hell"

UK Transport Secretary Mr McLoughlin, writing in The Sun, said Mrs May would be able to do the required deals in Brussels as the UK negotiated its exit from the European Union.

Suggesting Mrs May had "the 'it' factor", he said: "We know that the next prime minister needs to forge a deal from the EU as we shape our brighter future in the rest of the world. And her track record shows that when Theresa arrives in Brussels, Europe's bosses sit up and listen."

Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock threw his weight behind Mrs May's campaign, telling BBC Two's Newsnight: "I think we need somebody with a steady hand on the tiller who has got proven leadership credentials."

The Home Secretary also won the backing of the Daily Mail - the paper where Mr Gove's wife Sarah Vine is a columnist.

Mrs May is now the bookies' favourite in the race to succeed David Cameron, with Mr Gove the most prominent Leave backer in a field that also includes Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom.

Mr Gove has repeatedly denied having ambitions to be prime minister in the past and his decision to abandon Mr Johnson sparked a backlash from the former London mayor's supporters, some of whom accused him of a "betrayal" or "treachery".

MP Kwasi Kwarteng, who has now switched to back Mrs May, accused Mr Gove of indulging in "student politics" while Jake Berry said: "There is a very deep pit reserved in hell for such as he."

When the comments were put to him, Mr Gove dismissed them.