In a statement, Johnson said he led the Conservative to a “massive” election victory in 2019, and as such believed he was “uniquely placed” to avert a general election, which he said would be a “disastrous distraction” for the government, which should focus on the economic pressures the country is facing.
“I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 – and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations, including a proposer and a seconder, and I could put my nomination in tomorrow,” Johnson said.
“There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members – and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday,” he continued.
“But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament,” he said.
Johnson said he reached out to leadership rivals Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt “because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest.”
“We have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this,” Johnson said. “Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds.”
“I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time,” he added.
Sunak, a former treasury chief, and Mordaunt, leader of the House of Commons, both announced their leadership bids, though Johnson never officially declared.
Sunak has already passed the 100 MP nomination threshold to advance to the next round, while Mordaunt has struggled to attract enough support.
Johnson’s proposed candidacy exposed sharp divisions within the ruling Conservative Party, with some MPs – including several former and current Cabinet ministers – enthusiastically encouraging him to run, and others threatening to quit the party altogether if he does so.
Johnson was ousted by his MPs just six weeks ago following a series of scandals, including being found guilty of breaking his own COVID-19 lockdown rules.
Throughout Sunday, rival camps cast doubt on Johnson’s claim to have as many supporting MPs as he said he had.
If Mordaunt reaches 100 MPs by 2 p.m. Monday, both her and Sunak will enter into a runoff cote, decided by Conservative Party members, with the result to be announced on Friday.
If, as local media report is likely, Sunak is the only candidate to surpass the 100 MP threshold by Monday afternoon, he will automatically become the next Conservative Party leader and prime minister.