In this March 19, 2019 photo, Boris Johnson, Britain's former Foreign Secretary and prominent leave the European Union Brexit campaigner walks away after leaving the Cabinet Office in London. (MATT DUNHAM / AP)
LONDON — British politician Boris Johnson, a Brexit supporter who is the current favorite to be the UK's next prime minister, has stepped up his bid for support by challenging the European Union on the terms of the country's delayed departure.
Boris Johnson vows to take Britain out of the EU by the deadline that was pushed back to Oct 31 from March 29 even if there is no deal with the EU on withdrawal terms in place
Johnson told the Sunday Times that if he succeeds Prime Minister Theresa May, he would refuse to pay a 39 billion-pound (US$50 billion) divorce bill unless the EU offered a better withdrawal agreement than the one currently on the table.
Johnson quit as the foreign secretary in May's Cabinet last July over her approach to Brexit. May resigned as prime minister Friday after lawmakers, including fellow Conservatives like Johnson, repeatedly voted down her deal with the EU.
The race to replace May as Conservative Party leader - and in turn the head of Britain's government - officially begins Monday, June 10, 2019. Nominations close in the afternoon, and the party expects to name its new leader in late July.
In this May 24, 2019 photo, British Prime Minister Theresa May reacts as she turns away after making a speech in the street outside 10 Downing Street in London, England. (ALASTAIR GRANT / AP)
Johnson, 54, who also served as London's mayor, has emerged as the early front-runner in a crowded field. A hard-line Brexit advocate, he vows to take Britain out of the EU by the deadline that was pushed back to Oct 31 from March 29 even if there is no deal with the EU on withdrawal terms in place.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Johnson described himself as the only contender who could triumph over the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage's Brexit Party.
He and other Conservatives vying to lead the party insist they could get better terms from EU leaders in Brussels than the ones May agreed to and was unable to push through Parliament.
But EU officials have said they are not willing to change the terms of the deal reached with May.
Nigel Farage the leader of Britain's Brexit Party gives a television interview after delivering a letter addressed to 'The Prime Minister' asking for the Brexit Party to be included in Brexit negotiations with the European Union (EU) outside 10 Downing Street in London, June 7, 2019. (MATT DUNHAM / AP)
Political resistance and criticism over her handling of Brexit led to May's decision to resign before she achieved her goal of seeing the UK out of the European Union.
She is serving as a caretaker leader until a new prime minister is chosen and moves into 10 Downing Street.
One of Johnson's main rivals for the post, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, continued to be sidetracked Sunday by questions about his acknowledged cocaine use when he was a youthful journalist.
He told the BBC on Sunday that he was "fortunate" not to have gone to prison. He said he was "very, very aware" of the damage drugs can cause.
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