Boris Johnson is expected to attempt an extraordinary political comeback in the race to replace Liz Truss, a little over six weeks after the scandal-battered MP was forced out.
The former prime minister’s resurrection to frontline politics would be beset with problems, not limited to the ongoing inquiry into whether he lied to the Commons over partygate.
But his allies in Parliament are urging him to run, with the Conservatives desperately trying to avoid a general election amid dismal poll ratings.
Choosing Mr Johnson would mean the Tories could say they are not on to their third leader since he won their mandate in 2019, an argument that would be difficult to swallow for voters.
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But campaigners for victims of the coronavirus pandemic said the idea of a return for the prime minister who oversaw the Covid response and was fined for breaking his own lockdown rules is “devastating”.
Mr Johnson was holidaying in the Caribbean while Ms Truss was resigning, but the Times newspaper in London was told he believes it is a matter of “national interest” for him to stand again.
Party rules for the race mean Mr Johnson would need the backing of at least 100 Tory MPs by Monday afternoon to face off against any other successful challenger in a vote of the membership.
Multiple Tory MPs were quick to express their support for Mr Johnson, including Government minister Sir James Duddridge, who served as one of his parliamentary private secretaries.
“I hope you enjoyed your holiday boss. Time to come back. Few issues at the office that need addressing,” he tweeted along with a “bringbackboris” hashtag.
Dudley North MP Marco Longhi said: “The only person who has a mandate from the general public is Boris Johnson. He is the only person who can discharge the mandate from the people. Please come back Boss.”
Others, privately, are raising their concerns, with one long-standing adviser to Mr Johnson arguing it is “not the right thing for him”.
“All the problems that were problems when we were in there haven’t gone away in the last two months,” they told the PA news agency. “Some people are rather excited about it but there are plenty of people who have it in for him and still have it in for him.”
Problems with a Johnson candidacy include his popularity with the public crashing – even if he still rides high with the Tory membership.
Polling for the Conservatives was already dropping during Mr Johnson’s premiership and he faces an investigation by the Commons privileges committee into whether he lied to MPs.
If found guilty, he could face recall proceedings that would leave him battling for his seat in the Commons if he receives a suspension of 10 days or more.
Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said: “Until that investigation is complete and he is found guilty or cleared, there should be no possibility of him returning to government.”
Mr Johnson was forced to announce his resignation as Tory leader and, ultimately, prime minister on July 7th after cabinet allies turned on him with a series of resignations.
The final straw was questions about his judgment over the Chris Pincher affair, after the then-Tory whip was the centre of drunken groping allegations.
That came on top of Mr Johnson’s attempts to change the rules to prevent the suspension of then-Conservative MP Owen Paterson after he broke lobbying rules.
Plenty of Conservatives were also angered by the high-tax, high-spending Government he initiated in response to the coronavirus.
But his handling of the pandemic response is also under question, with Lobby Akinnola, a spokesman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, issuing a warning.
“It’s devastating for bereaved families to think that anyone in the Conservative party is considering bringing Boris Johnson back as PM,” he said.
“The idea that the prime minister who proved himself utterly incompetent during the pandemic should be the one to lead us into the next crisis is utterly terrifying.”
Labour was optimistic about its chances if Mr Johnson did make a comeback.
“In some sense, him running is the dream. Droning on about how they need a sensible, serious person to fix the mess they’ve made then that honking pudding turns up with his travelling circus trailing behind,” a party source said.