Many Tory MPs horrified at prospect of Boris Johnson’s return

Contenders to succeed Liz Truss as prime minister race to secure required support of 100 Conservative MPs

Conservative MPs were on Friday deeply divided by the prospect of Boris Johnson returning as party leader and British prime minister – just three months after he quit following a string of scandals.

Contenders to replace Liz Truss, who dramatically resigned on Thursday after only six weeks in power, were racing to secure the required support of 100 MPs to stand in the contest.

House of Commons leader Penny Mordaunt on Friday announced that she was standing for the Conservative leadership – the first Tory MP to do so. Former chancellor Rishi Sunak is also expected to stand.

Gilts and sterling came under renewed pressure on Friday, with some analysts linking the moves to concern about the idea of Mr Johnson returning to Downing Street.


The emergence of Mr Johnson as a frontrunner had choked off any relief for sterling after the departure of Ms Truss, said Jane Foley, head of currency strategy at Rabobank.

“The UK is facing a whole line-up of weak fundamentals, and earlier this year one of those was a lack of leadership from a government very distracted by one scandal after another,” Ms Foley said.

“That was the Boris Johnson government for investors, and the chance that that he could come back is not going to be welcomed by markets. You would hope he is experienced enough to read the room and stick with [chancellor Jeremy] Hunt’s plans, but until we know that, there’s going to be real nervousness.”

The former prime minister is still popular with grassroots Tory members, but there is no guarantee that he will reach the tally of 100 MPs needed to get on the ballot. He is thought likely to cut short a family holiday in the Caribbean to decide on a potential comeback.

MPs supporting Mr Johnson, led by trade minister Sir James Duddridge, have been quick out of the blocks in an attempt to build momentum.

Tom Pursglove, MP for Corby, said: “Voters had their say in 2019, Boris Johnson won an overwhelming mandate ... many of our supporters felt let down when he was removed and will arguably feel cheated again if he isn’t on the ballot.”

Many Tory MPs are horrified at the idea of Mr Johnson coming back so quickly after scores of ministers resigned in July to force him out of power.

Sir Roger Gale, a veteran MP, told Times Radio that he would quit if Mr Johnson returned. He also pointed out that the Commons privileges committee had not yet concluded its investigation into whether Mr Johnson lied to parliament about parties in 10 Downing Street during Covid lockdowns. “Until that investigation is complete there should be no possibility of him returning to government.”

John Baron, another long-serving Tory MP, said he would find it “impossible” to serve under another Johnson administration.

Supporters of Mr Sunak said he would be the right prime minister to restore the Tory party’s economic credibility after weeks of turmoil in the financial markets triggered by Ms Truss’s catastrophic “mini” budget in late September.

Dominic Raab, former deputy prime minister, called on colleagues to back Mr Sunak. “He has the plan and credibility to restore financial stability, help get inflation down and deliver sustainable tax cuts over time,” he said.

Allies of Mr Johnson have privately approached Mr Sunak to join forces, despite the latter having been one of the ministers who forced him out. But Mr Sunak’s supporters argue that he can win on his own without cutting a deal with either Mr Johnson or Ms Mordaunt.

Meanwhile, a poll by People Polling put the Conservative party at its lowest-ever support since modern polling began, at 14 per cent against Labour’s 53 per cent.

The contest to become Britain’s fourth prime minister in four years has been accelerated to take only a week. Under the new rules, no more than three candidates will be able to reach the first ballot on Monday afternoon, with the final two put to an online vote of party members for a result by next Friday. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022