*Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak met on Saturday evening for crucial talks *Mr Johnson landed at Gatwick Airport earlier in the day after returning from his Caribbean holiday *He is said to have gathered ‘more than 100 backers’, but official figures from Conservative Home say 53 *It is understood Mr Johnson could be willing to meet Mr Sunak to thrash out a deal to govern together *Latest figures from on the race put Mr Sunak at 127 backers, Mr Johnson at 53 and Ms Mordaunt at 23 *A poll by the Mail on Sunday found Johnson would perform the strongest in an election against Keir Starmer
After more than three hours, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s discussions over reaching a “unity” leadership arrangement have come to an end after a shocking Mail on Sunday survey revealed that he would give the Tories the greatest chance at a general election.
At their 8 o’clock meeting yesterday night, the former prime minister argued that if he returned to No. 10 with Mr. Sunak in a key position, it would prevent a bitter conflict.
Allies asserted that Mr. Johnson’s negotiating position is strengthened since he would almost certainly prevail in any vote among Tory members.
Mr. Johnson would demand “strict loyalty” in exchange for the top position from his former Chancellor, and if he couldn’t get it, he would “leave Rishi to it.”
The former prime minister, who returned to the UK yesterday from his Caribbean vacation, is seeking to build “an alliance in the national interest,” according to another admirer.
It’s thought that the crunch summit finished just before 11.20 p.m.
There were no quick updates about the talks.
Yesterday afternoon’s scheduled face-to-face meeting was postponed, and both parties held the other responsible.
The two men have been political rivals since since Mr. Sunak’s resignation last summer, which assisted in Mr. Johnson’s downfall. Last night, supporters of the former Chancellor disputed the Johnson camp’s assertion that they had the support of the necessary 100 Tory MPs to qualify for the poll.
They suspect they were being ‘bluffed’ into ‘folding’ too soon. By yesterday evening, the number of MPs offering their public backing had reached 127 for Mr Sunak, 53 for Mr Johnson and 23 for Ms Mordaunt.
Meanwhile, a Deltapoll survey for this newspaper found that if a General Election was held today, Labour would have a lead of 25 points – and an astonishing majority of 320.
But if Mr Johnson was Prime Minister, the lead would be cut to ten points, with a Labour majority of just 26. When voters were asked how they would vote if Rishi Sunak was the leader, Labour had a lead of 17 per cent and a projected majority of 124. Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, who is struggling to get enough MPs to back her leadership bid, would lose to a Labour majority of 216.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hitting the phones trying to win the support of his fellow Tory MPs. Sources close to Mr Johnson claim he already has 100 endorsements but he is still far short when it comes to public backers
Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak has gained the support of over 100 Conservative MPs in his bid for the party leadership
Wearing a shirt and carrying a rucksack, the former PM waved to the cameras as he arrived back in the UK on Saturday
Mr Johnson came straight off the BA flight into a waiting car at Gatwick Airport on Saturday morning
Carrie Johnson is pictured in a car without Boris after landing in Gatwick following their flight back from the Dominican Republic
One senior Tory source, said regarding the reunion of Johnson and Sunak: ‘It is something that has got to be tried. The party as it stands is fractured – it is incumbent on the two greatest talents in the party to see if it can be healed’
Outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss was seen leaving Downing Street today following her resignation yesterday
Former home secretary Priti Patel said she was backing Boris Johnson in the leadership race because he had a ‘proven track record’
Johnson to follow in the footsteps of Churchill?
What better way for Boris Johnson to follow in the footsteps of Winston Churchill, left, than to become Prime Minister for a second time like his hero.
Churchill stormed back into No 10 after winning the General Election in October 1951 – only a month short of his 77th birthday.
He regarded this victory as revenge for 1945, when – despite having led Britain through its ‘Darkest Hour’ to defeat Hitler –the Tory leader was ousted by Labour just after VE Day.
Churchill then led the Tories for six years in opposition, including a poll defeat in 1950.
In 1951, the Conservatives won 321 seats against Labour’s 295 after a campaign in which Churchill compared Socialist and Conservative outlooks, saying: ‘We are for the ladder. Let all try their best to climb. Socialists are for the queue. Let each wait in his place until his turn comes.’
Churchill suffered a stroke in 1952 and a more serious one in 1953. Finally, and with the utmost reluctance, he stepped down in April 1955 at the age of 80.
Mr Sunak’s supporters believe that if he wins the MPs’ backing by a large enough margin, then Mr Johnson will not feel he has the authority to submit himself to the members’ vote.
International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch became the latest MP to declare her support for Mr Sunak, describing him as ‘the man for the job’.
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was backing Mr Johnson because he had a ‘proven track record’.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and former Home Secretary Suella Braverman are also in Mr Johnson’s camp, while former No.10 chief of staff Steve Barclay and ex Brexit minister Lord Frost have publicly backed Mr Sunak.
Former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted about Mr Johnson’s return: ‘The boss is back’.
And writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, Ms Dorries says: ‘Only Boris is a proven winner. If Sunak is chosen, I fear we would enter uncharted and potentially dangerous waters’.
Mr Johnson’s father, Stanley, predicted that his son would put his name forward, saying: ‘He believes there are things to do still’, despite the lure of lucrative post-Premiership speaking offers. ‘He’s ready to give those temptations up to endure the slings and arrows’, he said.
Boris Johnson let it be known that he was ‘up for it’ in the wake of Liz Truss’s resignation on Thursday. After he landed at Gatwick with wife Carrie, he headed to Westminster’s Millbank Tower, a few hundred yards from where Mr Sunak was based, and hit the phones to round up support from MPs, including from those who have already publicly backed Mr Sunak or Ms Mordaunt.
Ms Patel said that under Mr Johnson the Tories won the ‘biggest mandate in a generation’, adding in a statement: ‘Boris has a proven track record getting the big decisions right, standing up for Ukraine and our values, and delivering on the people’s priorities’.
But Dominic Raab, who was Deputy Prime Minister under Mr Johnson said that his former boss would be ‘distracted’ by the Commons ‘Partygate’ probe if he were to become Prime Minister again.
Mr Raab said: ‘The issue right now is that within days of us having a new Prime Minister, which is, at the latest, next Friday, the Committee on Privileges and Conduct is going to start taking oral testimony, including from Boris.’
He added that ‘it doesn’t seem to possible’ for a Prime Minister to ‘give the country the attention that it requires’ while being that inquiry,is ongoing, adding: ‘We’d be back in the Groundhog Day of Partygate, we’ve got to have the country and the government moving forwar’.
Who’s backing who: The Tory big hitters who have come out in support of Boris or Rishi
TEAM RISHI – 127 backers
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis:
‘This is no time for experiments and wild gambles.
‘My vote tomorrow will be for Rishi. He is someone who the financial markets trust.’
Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch:
‘I have, on occasion, been a member of the Boris Johnson fan club.
‘However, I am an even bigger fan of Margaret Thatcher, a formidable politician who did not duck difficult decisions.
‘We need someone who can do the same. I believe that person is Rishi Sunak.’
Former Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab:
‘We cannot have another episode of the Groundhog Day, of the soap opera of Partygate, we must get the country and the government moving forward.
‘[Rishi Sunak] is the best placed leader to bring the Conservative family together.’
Former Brexit negotiator David Frost:
‘Boris Johnson will always be a hero for delivering Brexit… but we must move on. It is simply not right to risk repeating the chaos and confusion of the last year.
‘The Tory Party must get behind a capable leader who can deliver a Conservative programme. That is Rishi Sunak.’
TEAM BORIS – 53 backers
Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg:
‘Boris Johnson provides the best chance of a road to recovery for the Conservative Party.’
Former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries:
‘The boss is back. The man who broke the Brexit deadlock, delivered the first Covid vaccine, supported Ukraine when no one else would.
‘The one person Labour fear the most is Boris Johnson.’
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace:
‘We have to think about that legitimacy question that the public will be asking themselves and also about who could win the next election.
‘So at the moment I would lean towards Boris Johnson.’
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel:
‘I’m backing Boris to return as our prime minister, to bring together a united team to deliver our manifesto and lead Britain to a stronger and more prosperous future.’
Mr Raab is backing Mr Sunak, saying he ‘has the broadest appeal’ and ‘ can restore trust’.
Jo Twyman, Deltapoll’s co-founder, said: ‘Among those vying for the Conservative leadership, it is Boris Johnson who leads the pack. It is, however, a demonstration of the difficulty the Conservative Government are in that no candidate would be able to prevent a Labour majority as things stand.’
Today’s Mail on Sunday poll shows that Mr Johnson retains a level of electoral magnetism far outstripping that of any of his party colleagues – despite the months of scandal, intrigue and infighting that brought down his premiership in the summer.
Although the poll shows that Labour would still be ten points ahead if Mr Johnson were Prime Minister, the projected Labour majority of 26 that that would signal could be soon overturned in the course of a General Election campaign.
The same cannot be said of the 124-seat majority Labour are predicted to win if Mr Sunak were leader, or the record-breaking 320-seat majority if Ms Trusswere still at the helm.
Critically for Mr Johnson’s renewed leadership hopes, private polling date circulating in the Tory Party indicates that Mr Johnson is the only candidate with a chance of winning the Red Wall seats that are key to Tory Election hopes.
In those seats, according to a Portland Communications poll, Mr Johnson has a +36 per cent approval rating, compared with +21 for Mr Sunak and +22 for Penny Mordaunt. When asked which potential leader would make them more likely to vote Conservative at the next General Election, Mr Johnson came out on top with 56 per cent support, compared with 48 per cent for Mr Sunak.
Mr Johnson’s electoral sway was highlighted last Friday night in Mr Sunak’s own constituency, Richmond in Yorkshire, when the author Jeffrey Archer spoke at an event for Tory MP Matt Vickers. When the 200-strong crowd was asked for a show of hands on who they would prefer as leader, Johnson or Sunak, Boris won by 60 to 40.
And a YouGov survey of Tory members published last week showed the ousted PM’s abiding popularity with the party faithful.
Released before Liz Truss resigned, it showed that Mr Johnson was party members’ preferred replacement, with 32 per cent wanting him to come back compared to just 23 per cent for Rishi Sunak.
That was despite the fact that back in July, a YouGov poll revealed that 59 per cent of Tory members wanted Mr Johnson to quit.
But hanging over it all is the threat that just weeks after returning triumphant as PM, Mr Johnson could be suspended or even expelled all together from Parliament.
The Commons’ Privileges Committee will next month begin taking evidence in public on whether Mr Johnson lied to fellow MPs over what he knew about lockdown-busting parties at No 10 during the pandemic.
If the committee – chaired by veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman – finds that Boris deliberately misled the Commons, it could propose a ten-day Commons suspension that in turn could require Mr Johnson to face a by-election in his marginal Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.
The sentence would still have to be approved by the Commons – sparking threats from Johnson loyalists that they would seek to vote down the sanction.
Last night, a row erupted over claims that evidence already submitted to the inquiry was so damaging that even Conservative sources predicted Mr Johnson would be ‘gone by Christmas’.
In a statement to The Mail on Sunday, Sir Charles Walker, a newly appointed Tory member of the committee, said he ‘did not recognise’ the evidence claims – not least as the committee ‘has yet to start taking oral evidence’.
Boris Johnson has been on holiday in the Dominican Republic but is returning ahead of the Conservative leadership contest
Dozens of Conservative MPs are backing Johnson’s return to No 10 despite his resignation just weeks ago
Senior Tory members are urging the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson to meet face-to-face with estranged former Chancellor Rishi Sunak to join forces to win the leadership contest and ‘heal’ the part
But some Johnson allies are nervous that the first month of his return to No 10 could be dominated by the televised hearings in a dusty Commons committee room – with the PM himself giving evidence.
Tory leadership race timeline
Monday: Nominations for the race close, candidates making it through must have at least 100 Tory MPs backing them
Monday 3.30 pm: First round of voting (if more than one candidate gets through)
Monday 6pm: Result of first vote announced. If three make it through, the candidate with the fewest votes is be knocked out
Monday 6.30pm: ‘Indicative’ ballot held if two candidates are left, one may drop out
Tuesday-Friday: If two candidates make it through, Conservative Party members have the chance to vote online
Friday: The final vote closes and Britain’s new Prime Minister is announced
Other MPs desperate for him to return privately dismiss the danger – insisting the public has ‘moved on from the pandemic’ and that the committee – which has an in-built Tory majority – will stop short of inflicting a ten-day suspension on a serving PM.
There are also suggestions that the fact that Mr Johnson would have been re-confirmed as PM would deter Ms Harman’s committee from ‘pulling the trigger’.
Mr Johnson’s critics dismiss that as ridiculous.
Former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said reinstating Boris Johnson as prime minister would be the ‘worst example’ of putting the Tory party’s interest ahead of the public interest.
He added: ‘Given that the vast majority of the public, including many Conservatives, are struggling with a cost-of-living increases that we’re all seeing and the problems of the economy, the prime minister must be somebody who’s economically coherent, who understands the economy, who has shown that he does understand it, and that he will be able to work closely with the chancellor in restoring our economic strength.
‘Now, in the case of Johnson, I’m afraid it’s not this. This is not a theoretical question. He was prime minister for two or three years, he showed no interest, never mind leadership on economic policy.’
He added that he is backing former chancellor Rishi Sunak because he is ‘by far the best’ of the contenders available.
Sir Peter Bottomley, who as Father of the House is the longest continuously serving MP, said he supported Rishi Sunak to be the next prime minister.
Mr Rees-Mogg’s market prediction was contrary to that of some economists, with the head of currency strategy at Rabobank, Jane Foley, telling the Financial Times Mr Johnson’s time in office had been characterised by ‘a lack of leadership from a government very distracted by one scandal after another’, and ‘the chance that that could come back is not going to be welcomed by markets’.
Analysts at Berenberg Bank said there were greater market risks from a Johnson government, with FT reporting the bank told its clients: ‘Given that a majority of Conservative MPs probably do not want Johnson as their leader, the prospects of mass resignations and a further descent into chaos would loom large.’
The trio of Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt look best-placed to hit the high threshold of 100 nominations from the 357 MPs needed to feature on the Tory leadership ballot. But it is possible only one or two will make the numbers by the Monday 2pm deadline.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, Dominic Raab said that he expects Mr Sunak to announce he is running ‘shortly, soon’.
He said the case for Mr Sunak as PM has ‘grown and strengthened’, adding that ‘he is best placed to restore confidence’ and trust.
‘Rishi had the right plan in the summer and I think it is the right plan now,’ he said.
‘I think he is the best placed candidate to provide some stability, to provide confidence for the millions of workers and businesses up and down the country – but I also think he is the right candidate to bring the party together with a government of all of the talents to just relentlessly deliver for the British people whether it is on the cost of living, crime, schools or NHS.’
He added that while he would love to see Mr Johnson return to ‘front line politics’, he said that the former premier would not be suited for PM in this leadership race.
Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘We cannot go backwards. We can’t have another episode of the Groundhog Day, of the soap opera, of Partygate. We must get the country and the government moving forward.’
In an acknowledgment that she has ground to make up on the top two, Ms Mordaunt became the first to declare formally this evening – saying Conservatives had been telling her they want a ‘fresh’ start.
The latest tallies suggest Mr Sunak has 72 backers, while Mr Johnson is on 38 and Ms Mordaunt on 18. The former chancellor unveiled Sajid Javid, George Eustice, Chris Philp, Gavin Williamson and Liam Fox as his latest additions this afternoon.
Although Mr Johnson is still returning from the Dominican Republic, he has told allies he is definitely running.
Interest costs on the £2.4trillion debt mountain hit a September record, as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt scrambles to put together £40billion of spending cuts for a Halloween Budget.
Friends of Mr Johnson told MailOnline that Mr Hunt staying as Chancellor was ‘coded in’ if he becomes PM again. ‘He’d be absolutely bonkers to change Hunt,’ one said. ‘He has gone down well. Any change, even if it was to somebody more competent would just generate confusion.’
A senior Tory source said: ‘It is something that has got to be tried. The party as it stands is fractured – it is incumbent on the two greatest talents in the party to see if it can be healed.’ They added: ‘The question the Conservative Party needs to ask itself is whether it wants to win another general election. If it does, then it needs to come together now.’
A source close to bookies’ favourite Mr Sunak last night played down the prospect of peace talks, saying that although he was ‘willing to talk to all colleagues’, there were ‘no plans’ for a meeting with Mr Johnson. But another senior Tory said there were signs that both camps were eager to heal the rift that otherwise threatens to undermine whoever succeeds Miss Truss. ‘On balance, I think it [a meeting] will happen,’ the source said.
It came as Sky News photographed the ex-PM and wife Carrie Johnson on an overnight British Airways flight back from the Dominican Republic with their children and said the MP received ‘one or two boos’ as he boarded.
Influential Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who was a key Sunak backer in the last leadership race, said he now wanted to see Mr Johnson as PM with Mr Sunak alongside him again as chancellor.
Both men enjoyed a surge in support yesterday that threatened to make it impossible for rival candidates to get enough nominations to get on the ballot paper.
In a significant intervention, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he was setting aside his own leadership chances – and suggested he would back Mr Johnson. He said it was important to think about ‘who could win the next election’ for the Conservatives.
Mr Johnson also received endorsements from five other Cabinet ministers, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Levelling Up Secretary Simon Clarke and Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
Writing in the Daily Mail today, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris describes Mr Johnson as the party’s ‘standout star’ who is best placed to ‘finish the job he started’.
The in-tray of agonies for the next PM
The in-tray awaiting the next PM is loaded with problems – and whoever takes on the daunting task must do so while piecing together a bitterly divided party. Here, CHRIS BROOKE looks at the challenges ahead.
TAX AND SPEND
After racking up a £400billion bill during the pandemic and with rising interest rates sending borrowing costs even higher, the Government faces the nightmare task of trying to balance its books.
How can the Tories raise sufficient tax revenue and control spending while boosting growth in the economy to show there is a road out of the debt quagmire the nation’s finances appear stuck in?
With warnings of winter blackouts, simply keeping the lights on will be an achievement. Even with government help, millions will struggle to pay their energy bills – and with the prospect of prices going even higher in April, the PM must work out what support to give when the energy price guarantee ends in spring. Energy costs are also putting a massive strain on businesses.
The health service appears stuck in a never-ending crisis.
There are seven million people on waiting lists, constant difficulties seeing a GP, problems with ambulance response times and a crisis in maternity care. Many more doctors and nurses are needed and many believe major reform of the NHS is the only solution. But with two years until the next election there is no time to implement major structural change.
With Vladimir Putin increasingly cornered, fears are growing that there could be a nuclear escalation in the Ukraine war. Helping Ukraine to victory requires ever-increasing support from the UK and its Nato allies at no little cost.
The Tory faithful have long demanded a clampdown on the flood of cross-Channel illegal immigrants but so far no solution has been found and the Rwanda removals scheme remains stuck in the courts.
At the same time, some sectors of the economy want more immigrants to stimulate growth, meaning the new PM faces another difficult balancing act.
BREXIT & NORTHERN IRELAND
Brexit might be done but making it work remains a big problem. Talks to find a compromise solution to the Northern Ireland protocol – designed to prevent a trade border with the Irish Republic by effectively keeping the Province in the EU’s single market for goods – are at a delicate stage. A decision on whether to trigger Article 16 emergency measures that could start an EU trade war may need to be made.
POLLS AND PARTY UNITY
With the Tories trailing up to 39 points behind Labour in the polls, the new PM will be anxious to avoid being forced into an early General Election.
That means the next premier must somehow hold together a party that is split apart by factions. Conservative unity has been an impossible goal since the Brexit referendum but must somehow be achieved to avoid an election wipeout in two years’ time.
Last night, Mr Johnson had the declared support of 43 MPs, although sources are confident he will get well over the 100 nominations needed to make the ballot paper on Monday.
Mr Sunak was out in front with backing from 83 MPs, including former chancellor Sajid Javid, who said it was ‘abundantly clear’ that he had the ‘values our party needs’ to ‘move on from the mistakes of the past’.
Mr Johnson is due to arrive back in the UK today following a holiday in the Caribbean. Although he has not formally confirmed his candidacy, former minister Sir James Duddridge revealed he had told him he was ‘up for it’.
Sir James said: ‘I’ve been in contact with the boss via WhatsApp. He’s going to fly back. He said, ‘I’m flying back, Dudders, we are going to do this. I’m up for it’.’
Allies of Mr Johnson suggested he would be willing to meet Mr Sunak as soon as this afternoon if the former chancellor agrees. The two men have not spoken since Mr Sunak quit the Cabinet in July, triggering Mr Johnson’s exit a few days later. The ‘backstabber’ narrative dogged Mr Sunak throughout the summer leadership campaign and is seen as one of the main reasons Tory members rejected him in favour of Miss Truss.
MPs on both sides of the Tory divide fear that neither man will be able to heal the deep divisions without the support of the other. Peterborough MP Paul Bristow said it was time to ‘put the band back together’.
He told the BBC: ‘Boris Johnson has a mandate from the members of the party and from the electorate. I’m sure my colleagues will reflect on that when they vote, and we can avoid a general election, we can go out and put this band back together, we can have political heavyweights around that Cabinet table and we can go on and win the next general election. I’m convinced of that.’
It remains unclear how any deal between the two leading contenders could work. Mr Sunak quit as chancellor in part because of differences over economic policy and it is difficult to see how he could take the role again.
Allies of Mr Johnson dismissed the suggestion he would consider a senior role such as home secretary in a Sunak administration.
Miss Truss’s abrupt resignation on Wednesday has triggered a breakneck race to succeed her.
Candidate need 100 nominations from Tory MPs by 2pm on Monday to make the ballot paper.
Tory MPs will vote that night to whittle down the field to two if necessary. If two candidates remain, Conservative Party members will be asked to decide the contest in an online vote, with the result revealed on Friday.
Miss Truss will stay in post as caretaker leader in the meantime, and could take part in a final session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.