LONDON — Boris Johnson was elected leader of the U.K. Conservative Party on Tuesday with a large majority and will become Britain’s next prime minister.
The former mayor of London and figurehead of the Brexit campaign beat his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, by 92,153 votes to 46,656 — winning 66 percent of the votes.
As leader of the largest party in parliament, Johnson will be invited by the queen to form a government on Wednesday, following the formal resignation of the incumbent prime minister, Theresa May.
In his acceptance speech, Johnson told the Tory faithful there would be people around the country “who will question the wisdom of your decision.”
But he said those in the room did not look or feel “daunted” by the challenge of Brexit.
“I think we know that we can do it and the people of this country are trusting in us to do it and we know we will do it,” he said. “Deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn — that is what we are going to do. We are going to beat Jeremy Corbyn.”
Making a joke about his campaign pledges, deliver, unite, defeat and energise, he said: “Dude, we are going to energise the country, we are going to get Brexit done by October 31.”
Johnson also thanked May for her “extraordinary service to this party and this country” and listed a number of her reforms.
But he suffered a blow shortly before being announced as Tory leader, when Anne Milton quit as an education minister in protest at his stance on Brexit.
In her resignation letter to May, Milton said she had “grave concerns about leaving the EU without a deal, and so I feel it is time for me to return to the backbenches.
She added: “It is important to me to do what I feel is right for the country and my constituents.”
Milton was the second minister to resign in as many days in a symbol of defiance against Johnson, after Alan Duncan resigned from the Foreign Office on Monday.
Duncan told the BBC he was concerned by Johnson’s “fly by the seats of his pants, haphazard” style and feared he would go “smack into a crisis of government.”
Tory MP Margot James last week resigned as digital minister to vote for a Commons legal tweak that would stop Johnson suspending parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson’s victory in the monthlong runoff against Hunt, who backed Remain at the 2016 referendum but later said he backs Brexit, was widely predicted. The vast majority of Conservative members are pro-Brexit and Johnson’s firm commitment to leave the EU with or without a deal on October 31 was pivotal to him securing victory.
But he is now likely to face resistance on two fronts: from the EU to any attempt at renegotiating May’s Withdrawal Agreement; and from opposition parties and rebel Tory MPs to any push for a no-deal Brexit.
Before the result was read out, co-chair of the Conservative 1922 committee Charles Walker urged colleagues: “Can we be kinder to the next prime minister than we have been to the current prime minister?”
There were more than 159,000 votes cast, with a turnout of 87.4 percent and 509 rejected ballots.
May congratulated Johnson on his victory, noting that the country needed to “deliver a Brexit that works for the whole UK and to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of government.” She added on Twitter: “You will have my full support from the back benches.”
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said his team was looking forward to “working constructively” with Johnson after he becomes prime minister Wednesday.
Barnier said the EU was ready to “facilitate the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement and achieve an orderly Brexit.” And he added: “We are ready also to rework the agreed Declaration on a new partnership in line with [European Council] guidelines.”
Corbyn called for a general election and argued Johnson had not “won the support of our country.”
“Boris Johnson has won the support of fewer than 100,000 unrepresentative Conservative Party members by promising tax cuts for the richest, presenting himself as the bankers’ friend, and pushing for a damaging No Deal Brexit,” the Labour leader tweeted.