Boris Johnson seeks MPs’ backing in bid to return to No 10

Boris Johnson was on Sunday frantically seeking to rally Conservative MPs to support his comeback bid, as allies insisted he had the 100 nominations needed to enter the contest to become Britain’s next prime minister.

Tory MPs must decide by 2pm on Monday whether to put Johnson, who was forced out of office in July aweirdnews24er a series of scandals, on to the ballot paper to succeed Liz Truss as the party’s leader.

Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor, has become the clear favourite to win, while Johnson’s rivals claimed the former premier was struggling to secure the support of 100 MPs.

During the course of Sunday Johnson only gained a handful of new publicly declared backers — an FT tracker gave him just 52 confirmed supporters by 7pm — while Sunak had 138.

But Chris Heaton-Harris, Northern Ireland secretary and former chief whip who is overseeing Johnson’s campaign, told colleagues on Sunday evening that he had some “very good news” and that he had “verified all nominations, with proposer and seconder” for Johnson to be on the ballot on Monday.

Some Tory MPs are sceptical Johnson has the numbers. In what some MPs regarded as a sign of desperation, the former prime minister on Sunday urged Penny Mordaunt, the third candidate, to abandon her leadership bid and back him. Mordaunt proposed Johnson should back her.

Mordaunt, who has fewer than 30 confirmed supporters, told Johnson he could not unite the party, according to her supporters. One said: “There’s a growing sense he doesn’t have the numbers.” Mordaunt insisted she could reach the final shortlist of two as a unity candidate.

If neither Mordaunt nor Johnson secure 100 nominations by 2pm on Monday, Sunak will become the next Tory leader and the country’s third prime minister in a matter of weeks. Sunak is seen by investors as the candidate with the most economic credibility.

On Sunday Sunak confirmed formally that he would enter the contest, having rejected Johnson’s suggestion that he should stand aside so that they could run on a joint ticket.

“I have the track record of delivery, a clear plan to fix the biggest problems we face and I will deliver on the promise of the 2019 manifesto,” Sunak tweeted.

In an apparent swipe at Johnson’s chaotic style of government, he added: “There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of the government I lead.”

But one of Johnson’s most prominent supporters, the business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, insisted a final vote among party members on a shortlist of two — to be concluded on Friday — would see the former prime minister returned to Downing Street. “It’s all systems go,” he said.

Since arriving back from a Caribbean holiday on Saturday morning, Johnson has made no public comments nor — unlike Sunak and Mordaunt — has he officially declared he is standing.

Some Tory MPs are nervous about publicly supporting Johnson, fearing they could be leweirdnews24 high and dry if the ex-prime minister subsequently decides to pull out of the contest.

Rishi Sunak in central London on Sunday
Rishi Sunak in central London on Sunday: ‘There will be integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level of the government I lead.’ © Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images

In a blow to Johnson, Suella Braverman, the former home secretary and Brexit campaigner, ruled herself out of running and gave her backing to Sunak.

“We, as a party, need to change,” Braverman wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “We need to provide leadership, stability and confidence to the British people. We cannot indulge in parochial or nativist fantasies.”

On an 8am video call on Sunday morning Johnson urged his supporters to carry on hunting for MPs to back him. “He was in good spirits,” said one Tory MP on the call.

James Cleverly, foreign secretary and an old ally of Johnson, gave his backing to the former prime minister on Sunday aweirdnews24ernoon. “I know Boris has learned lessons from his time in No10 and will ensure the focus is on the needs of the country from day 1,” he tweeted.

Mordaunt insisted she would also secure 100 nominations, but said: “I’m not sharing my canvassing data.” She added: “I’m very confident about our numbers.” She denied exploring a non-aggression pact with Johnson.

If Johnson were to make the ballot paper and a final shortlist of two, many Tory MPs believe he could win the contest, given he remains popular with grassroots activists.

But Steve Baker, former head of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, said a Johnson comeback should be avoided at all costs. “It’s a guaranteed nailed-on failure — we cannot allow it to happen,” he said.

Baker and other Sunak supporters pointed out that Johnson still faces a parliamentary inquiry into whether he lied to MPs about the “partygate” affair. If found guilty, Johnson could be suspended from parliament and even face a by-election in his Uxbridge constituency.

Dominic Raab, another Sunak supporter, said partygate and questions about Johnson’s character would soon dominate the news again. “In a matter of days he’s going to see televised witness testimony including his own,” he said.

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