LONDON — Boris Johnson will launch his campaign to become U.K. prime minister on Wednesday morning with a promise to get Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31, come what may.
The former foreign secretary is the favorite of the 10 candidates to succeed Theresa May, and the one who has said by far the least about how he would tackle the biggest problem the nation faces. His launch event will be the first time he has faced public questioning in months.
That silence has allowed him to pick up the support of both members of Parliament who want to leave the EU with a deal and those who are content to — or would even prefer to — leave without one. His stated strategy is to talk tough with the Europeans, threatening to withhold the 39 billion pound ($49 billion) settlement that the U.K. has agreed it owes the bloc unless he’s granted concessions.
“We must leave the EU on Oct. 31,” Johnson will say, according to his office. “We simply will not get a result if we give the slightest hint that we want to go on kicking the can down the road with yet more delay. Delay means defeat.”
Johnson’s pitch is simple: He is easily the party’s best-known figure, a political star known to the public by his first name. At a time when members of Parliament fear a general election, he will tell them that he knows how to win it.
His critics are equally straightforward. He was sacked as a journalist for making up a quote and as a Conservative spokesman for lying about an affair. His role in the 2016 Brexit referendum, though quite possibly decisive, also alienated him from many liberal voters. Conservative polling expert Rob Hayward last week told journalists that most of the public had made up their minds about Johnson, and many don’t trust him.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, also launching his campaign Wednesday, will also argue that Johnson is the wrong choice. “I believe now more than ever that this is a moment for a new kind of leadership and a new kind of leader,” he’ll say, according to his office. “A leader is not just for Christmas, or just for Brexit. So we can’t risk going with someone who feels like the short-term, comfort zone choice. We need tomorrow’s leader, today.”
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