Justice secretary and chief Leave campaigner Michael Gove has announced he will "reluctantly" run for the leadership of the Conservative party, saying Boris Johnson "cannot provide the leadership" the country needs.
Gove was widely expected to back the former London mayor and his announcement comes as a shock after his repeated denials that he wants to be prime minister.
"I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership," said Gove in a statement. "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.
"But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead."
There are suggestions Gove's candidacy will reduce support for Johnson and provide fuel for home secretary Theresa May's leadership bid.
Within minutes of Gove's announcement, culture minister Ed Vaizey tweeted that he will back the justice secretary.
Backbench MP Michael Fabricant also said he is transferring his support from Johnson to Gove. "Although I admire Boris hugely, Michael offers clarity and logic in thought and a socially liberal outlook which will be so needed by our nation's prime minister," he said in a statement.
Business and education minister Nick Boles – who backed the Remain camp in last week's EU referendum – has also abandoned Johnson to chair Gove's campaign.
The move comes after an email from Gove's wife, Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, was sent to the wrong person and was yesterday made public. In it, Vine told Gove to "be your stubborn best" when meeting Johnson, and to agree to back the former mayor only if a series of promises were given.
The letter also hinted Johnson would only receive support from Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and The Times and The Sun owner Rupert Murdoch if Gove, a former newspaper journalist, joined the ticket.
Gove acknowledged in his statement that he has previously stated he had no desire to be prime minister. In an interview with The Telegraph just 12 days ago he said: "I don't think I have got that exceptional level of ability required for the job."
You can read Gove's full statement here:
The British people voted for change last Thursday. They sent us a clear instruction that they want Britain to leave the European Union and end the supremacy of EU law. They told us to restore democratic control of immigration policy and to spend their money on national priorities such as health, education and science instead of giving it to Brussels. They rejected politics as usual and government as usual. They want and need a new approach to running this country.
There are huge challenges ahead for this country but also huge opportunities. We can make this country stronger and fairer. We have a unique chance to heal divisions, give everyone a stake in the future and set an example as the most creative, innovative and progressive country in the world.
If we are to make the most of the opportunities ahead we need a bold break with the past.
I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be Prime Minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me.
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.
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.