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Boris Johnson urged to forget running for PM as flailing Tories plot and bicker

Boris Johnson arrives back in the UK yesterday, left, Rishi Sunak outside his house in London, centre, and, right, Penny Mordaunt launches bid to be PM
Boris Johnson arrives back in the UK yesterday, left, Rishi Sunak outside his house in London, centre, and, right, Penny Mordaunt launches bid to be PM

Pressure was piling on Boris Johnson last night as Tory MPs told him to abandon his hopes of an astonishing return to Downing Street for the good of his party and the country.

While the former prime minister’s supporters were last night suggesting he had the backing of the 100 MPs needed to run, many of his colleagues are urging him not to stand against former chancellor Rishi Sunak for the leadership.

Sunak’s supporters questioned Johnson’s claimed support while a number of his previous backers switched sides and others said he risked further division and chaos if he tried to get back to No 10 only three months after he was forced to resign.

Senior Tories warned it would be against the national interest for Johnson to return to Downing Street after he quit following a series of scandals and mass resignations.

The deadline to enter the race is 2pm tomorrow and yesterday saw ferocious lobbying of MPs by Johnson, Sunak, and House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, who is the only one so far to announce her intention to run, as the Conservatives were once again engulfed by plotting, acrimony and deal making.

Johnson had been on holiday in the Dominican Republic but arrived at Gatwick Airport in London yesterday morning after telling allies by phone that he was “up for it”.

However, Sunak, whose resignation as chancellor is blamed by Johnson’s supporters for forcing his departure from No 10, was the first leadership contender to pass the threshold of 100 MPs needed to get on the leadership ballot paper while there was no apparent groundswell of support for the former prime minister.

Claims some Tory donors had been told Johnson would not now run were quickly denied as reports suggested he was to meet Sunak last night.

More than half of the Tories’ 357 MPs had backed candidates by close of play with Sunak having twice as many MPs in his corner as Johnson with a BBC tally suggesting he had 127 declared supporters, compared to 53 for Johnson and 23 for Mordaunt.

Neither Johnson nor Sunak had officially announced  they were standing, although Johnson’s father Stanley said: “I think he will put his name forward, and I think he will beat Rishi Sunak in a head to head.”

However, while Johnson has secured the backing of former cabinet colleagues Priti Patel, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and Ben Wallace, some former allies had switched sides, including Steve Barclay, his one-time chief of staff, former Brexit minister Lord Frost and former veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer.

Mercer posted that, while Johnson was a friend and that he “loved him to bits, I just don’t think I can put us through all that again”.

The former prime minister’s hopes of getting on to the ballot took another blow last night when Kemi Badenoch, who many of her party colleagues rated highly during the leadership campaign in the summer, came out for Sunak.

Writing in the Sunday Times, she said Sunak was serious and honest. She said: “Mrs Thatcher won the public’s trust and three elections in a row by making it about us, not about her. We need someone who can do the same. I believe that person is Rishi Sunak.”

Tory MPs will vote for their preferred candidate tomorrow and if there are still two candidates remaining after these votes, party members will vote online with a result expected on Friday. Johnson is said to be confident of winning if the vote goes to members but will come under escalating pressure to withdraw if a convincing majority of MPs support Sunak.

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie, who is backing Sunak, described the claim that the former prime minister had the 100 MPs needed to run as “doubtful”.

Bowie said: “Boris Johnson has a lot of qualities but I really don’t think it is in his own interest, nor is it in a national interest, for him to return as leader of the Conservative Party or even to frontline politics.

“It was only three months ago that Conservative MPs decided en masse that he was not the right person to continue as leader. He was forced out as prime minister with the highest number of resignations by any government in history.

“We can’t forget that and I think that for his own sake, despite his numerous qualities, he needs to take some time to reflect on why that happened. In the national interest, I think it’s really important that we move on.”

© Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock
Liz Truss announces her resignation as PM

Tory grandees were also unconvinced that Johnson should return. Former leader William Hague said it could send the party into “a death spiral” while former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said it would be the “worst example” of putting the Tory party’s interest ahead of the public interest.

He told Times Radio: “He was prime minister for two or three years and he showed no interest, never mind leadership, on economic policy.”

Johnson is also still facing an inquiry into whether he lied to the Commons over the Partygate scandal. If found guilty by the Commons Privileges Committee, he could face recall proceedings that would leave him fighting for his seat.

Dominic Raab, who was Boris Johnson’s former deputy PM and is backing Sunak as the next prime minister, said: “It doesn’t seem to me possible for anyone to be prime minister who is absorbed and has their focus distracted and is enmeshed in that next saga or episode of the soap opera that is Partygate, and at the same time give the country the attention that it requires.

“We have to have the country and the government moving forward.”

Mordaunt was the first MP to confirm her candidacy to replace Liz Truss as prime minister and released a campaign video yesterday morning.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont, who is supporting Mordaunt, said: “I strongly believe the Conservative Party and the government need to look forward and not go back to the debates and the discussions we had previously when Boris was prime minister.”

Some Scottish Conservative associations also said it was time for the party to move on from Johnson.

Gordon Wallace-Brown, deputy chair of East Renfrewshire Conservatives Association, said: “I’m not a believer in people coming back who have remitted office for whatever reason. We need a new vision.”

Former chair of Moray Conservatives Marc Macrae, who is a councillor for Fochabers Lhanbryde, said: “I would hope that MPs will put their support behind one candidate and we can move forward. Boris did a fantastic job in the past but is he the man now? Possibly not.”

Former Aberdeen South MP Ross Thomson, who was Johnson’s Scottish campaign manager for the 2019 General Election and who supported Truss’s campaign to be leader this summer, said: “I’m speaking to activists and members all the time and there’s a genuine feeling of frustration, anger and disappointment at what happened in Westminster over the last week.”

Relationships expert: Reunion with an ex depends on trust

By Amie Flett

The Tory Party thinking about reuniting with their ex leader is understandable but fraught with risk, according to a relationship expert.

Angela Trainer warned that while rekindled relationships can work, success depends on genuine change and new trust, adding: “The first and most important thing is to look at why we go back to an ex: it’s familiar.

“Human beings generally don’t like change, we prefer the status quo of what we know. The future is unknown and therefore that feels more risky, more challenging.

“In relationships, there’s an expression, ‘In memory gardens, it’s always summer’, so sometimes when we leave a relationship, we forget the reasons we left, and only remember the good times.”

Trainer, a director of Harvest Clinic in Glasgow, believes to repair a broken relationship, there needs to be change and a level of trust restored.

But in Johnson’s case, she’s not convinced enough time has passed to ensure history does not repeat itself. “One of the definitions of insanity is when you keep doing the same thing and expect to get different results,” Trainer said.

“Can people change? Yes, with support, work and effort – but only when there is insight into what it is that needs to change and understanding exactly what that is. Real hard work is when there’s supervision on how you challenge those behaviours and that doesn’t happen in just a couple of months. Change takes time.

“In terms of Boris Johnson, where’s the insight? Where’s the learning? Does he even have any concept of what he did wrong in the first place – or did he just get caught? I’d say in this case, the major issue there, and again in relationships, is trust.

“When the trust is broken, you don’t get that back in a heartbeat, that has to be repaired and it has to be earned.

“I’m not hearing anything from Boris Johnson that he understands what he did was unacceptable and why. There is no signs of change.”