Loved and loathed in equal measure, Boris Johnson – the former journalist based in Brussels, former London mayor and the star of the Leave camp – is the current favourite to emerge as the next Conservative leader and prime minister by October.
Charismatic and popular in London but unknown to many in other parts of Britain, Johnson made the Brexit case forcefully on the road and in television debates. His political ambition to succeed Cameron was not unknown, but few imagined the referendum could be his route to No 10, Downing Street.
Cameron’s exit marks the end of a sustained period in which he sought to woo the Indian diaspora away from the Labour Party, and visited India three times in his six-year tenure to further business and trade ties. There was much warmth between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the latter’s visit last November.
Priti Patel, currently the minister of employment and one of six ministers in the Brexit camp, is likely to get an upgraded position in a government headed by a pro-Brexit prime minister, most likely to be Johnson.
Married to lawyer Marina Wheeler of Sikh origin, Johnson last visited India in 2012. He often celebrated Indian investment in London and lobbied for bringing back the post-study work visa for Indian students, who have increasingly avoided Britain in recent years.
Johnson is the front-runner, but the Conservative Party may see a leadership contest between him and justice secretary Michael Gove, another leading light of the Brexit campaign. Until October, Cameron will act as the caretaker prime minister, before handing over to his successor.
Johnson was booed by Remain supporters as he left his Islington house to address a briefing in which he sought to reassure the people, saying “nothing would change over the short term” and there was “no haste” in triggering the legal process for exit talks.
Britain, he said, will continue to have a strong voice in global affairs as an economic powerhouse and a compassionate and open-minded nation: “To those who may be anxious, whether at home or abroad, this does not mean that the United Kingdom will be in any way less united, nor indeed does it mean that it will be any less European...that this decision involves pulling up a drawbridge or some sort of isolationism – I think the opposite is true.”
Unlike his previous mercurial appearances before the media, Johnson appeared sombre – supporters claimed he was “prime ministerial” – as he said, “We cannot turn our backs on Europe. We are part of Europe.”
The EU project, he said, was a “noble ideal for its time” but it “was no longer right for this country…We can find our voice in the world again, a voice that is commensurate with the fifth-biggest economy on earth.”
He added, “I believe we now have a glorious opportunity: we can pass our laws and set our taxes entirely according to the needs of the UK economy.”