Boris Johnson kicks off Prime Minster bid

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Image: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Boris Johnson started his campaign to succeed Prime Minister Theresa May with a pledge on Wednesday to lead Britain out of the EU by October 31, and a warning to his divided Conservative Party that delay means defeat.

Johnson, favoured for the top job nearly three years after he led the campaign to leave the EU, praised the strength of the British economy, promised to deliver Brexit by the end of October and to tackle despair across the country.

“After three years and two missed deadlines, we must leave the EU on 31 October,” he said as a heckler yelled “Bollocks to Boris” from outside the Royal Academy of Engineering in London.

“I am not aiming for a nodeal outcome,” Johnson said.

He is a 54-year-old former foreign minister and former London mayor.

“I don’t think that we will end up with any such thing but it is only responsible to prepare vigorously and seriously for no-deal. It is astonishing that anyone could suggest dispensing with that vital tool in the negotiation.”

Johnson has won over many in his party by arguing that only he can rescue the Conservatives by delivering Brexit. For many, the contest for prime minister is his to lose – he has the highest number of declared supporters in parliament and is widely popular among the party’s members, the people who will ultimately choose May’s successor.

Asked if he had ever broken the law, he spoke about driving above the speed limit.

When asked about whether he had dabbled in illegal drugs, he dodged the question.

“I think what most people want us to focus on in this campaign is what we can do for them and what our plans are for this great country,” he said.

As in the 2016 referendum on EU membership, Johnson’s message is clear: any more Brexit delays and the Conservative Party risks opening the door to a government led by opposition Labour leader and veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn.

“We will simply not get a result if we give the impression that we want to go on kicking the can down the road,” Johnson said.

“Delay means defeat, delay means ruin.

“Around the country there is a feeling of disillusion and even despair at our ability to get things done.”

The UK could be heading towards a constitutional crisis over Brexit without a deal but parliament has indicated it will try to thwart such a scenario.