Brexit allies fall out in fierce battle to succeed Britain's Cameron

British Justice Secretary Michael Gove (left) and Boris Johnson at a press conference in central London, on June 24, 2016.
British Justice Secretary Michael Gove (left) and Boris Johnson at a press conference in central London, on June 24, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Brexit campaigner Michael Gove announced a surprise bid on Thursday (June 30) to become Britain's next prime minister, in a blow for his close ally Boris Johnson's chances, as turmoil gripped both the country's main political parties after the shock vote to leave the EU.

The race for the leadership of the governing Conservative Party kicked off as impatient EU leaders were pressuring Britain to speed up its withdrawal from the bloc.

Justice minister Gove, who campaigned alongside Johnson in Britain's momentous vote last week to leave the EU, said the former London mayor "cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead".

The announcement could boost the chances of Interior Minister Theresa May, a low-key supporter of remaining in the European Union who also announced her candidacy on Thursday.

"Following last week's referendum, our country needs strong, proven leadership to steer us through this period of economic and political uncertainty, and to negotiate the best possible terms as we leave the European Union," she wrote in The Times newspaper.

Cameron announced his resignation within hours of last Thursday's vote and said it should be up to his successor to launch exit negotiations with the EU.

A new leader is set to be voted in by Conservative Party members by Sept 9 at the latest but European leaders have pressed for a quicker timetable, warning against a prolonged period of uncertainty over Britain's EU future.

Conservative members, who will eventually decide the winner, favour May by a margin of 37 per cent to 27 per cent, according to a YouGov poll published on Thursday.

Challengers have until 1100 GMT to declare.

Work and pensions minister Stephen Crabb announced his candidacy on Wednesday, while right-wing former defence minister Liam Fox is also expected to run.

The Brexit vote has sent the pound plunging and prompted economists to slash their growth forecasts for the one of the world's biggest economies.

US President Barack Obama warned on Wednesday that Brexit raised "longer-term concerns about global growth".