Dominic Raab says Boris 'could make a return to frontline politics'
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Rishi Sunak is believed to have become the first Conservative leadership candidate to secure the backing of 100 MPs. The former Chancellor’s supporters said he had gained the necessary numbers to reach the threshold, way ahead of the deadline.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson lags behind, as does Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, who became the first to confirm her candidacy to replace Liz Truss at Number 10.
Mr Johnson has told allies he is “up for it” and is flying back from his holiday in the Dominican Republic to enter the race and make an extraordinary comeback bid.
As of late last night, Mr Sunak, who came second against Ms Truss in the previous race six weeks ago, has about 82 public declarations, ahead of Mr Johnson’s 48 and Ms Mordaunt’s 18.
A source from Mr Sunak’s camp told the PA news agency he had won the backing of 100 colleagues to make it to the next stage.
There is speculation among backers of Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak they could strike a deal to stand together, but this would need them both to bury tensions.
Former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, who backs Mr Sunak, told Sky News: “Boris has still got a huge amount to offer. I’m fond of him personally. I respect him hugely and I defended him to the last. The big challenge for Boris is that within days of a new Prime Minister being announced next Friday, the Committee on Standards and Privileges is going to start taking testimony on Partygate. That’s going to involve witnesses. It will, I’m assuming, have involve him giving oral evidence.
“We need a Prime Minister that is focused relentlessly and consistently with a laser like focus on the issues facing the country. It’s very difficult to see how Boris could be Prime Minister if he is absorbed and distracted by all of that and I say that as someone who thinks he can make a return to frontline politics.
“I don’t think we can ignore this issue of the Committee on Standards and Privileges… We have got to go forward and not back and end up with a Groundhog Day of Partygate again.”
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Andrew Stephenson, Tory MP for Pendle and the Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said he believed Mr Johnson should put his name forward for the leadership contest.
He said party members and members of the public have told him they want Mr Johnson back. Mr Stephenson told the BBC: “I visited 80 different constituencies. I attended all of the [previous leadership race] hustings, met thousands of party members, and a lot of them were saying to me, ‘We want Boris on the ballot’. Now, constitutionally that couldn’t have happened, Boris had resigned.
“It was a contest between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. But there was a huge amount of support from party members still for Boris and they were quite upset that parliamentarians had got rid of him.
“I am one of a number of MPs urging him now to think about putting his name forward, because he’s popular with party members, but also I think he’s got the big judgment calls right.
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“Not only did he deliver us that historic victory in the 2019 General Election, but getting Brexit done, in delivering the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, in standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies in Ukraine.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said he backed Mr Sunak because he is “by far the best” of the contenders available.
He told Times Radio: “I don’t know Rishi Sunak. I’ve not met him personally. So I’m not simply an automatic adherent.
“But what I do know is that during the Truss/Sunak campaign, one of the reasons Sunak lost probably was because he was brave enough to put the public interest (first) and say ‘I cannot support tax cuts unless they’re properly funded, and not while the economy’s in a mess’. He said that and it probably cost him more votes than it gained him. But he’s been proven 100 percent right.
“So as a citizen affected by the way the economy may develop over the next few months, then on the people available, he is by far the best.”
Mr Johnson has won the support of six Cabinet ministers: Ben Wallace, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Simon Clarke, Chris Heaton-Harris, Alok Sharma and Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
Mr Rees-Mogg said Tory members should decide who is the next leader rather than MPs, telling the Daily Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast returning Mr Johnson to No 10 would calm the stock markets.
The Business Secretary said Mr Johnson’s reinstalment would provide financial stability because it would mean the General Election would not need to be held until late 2024.
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “I’m always in favour of the members deciding the leadership. I think that’s the right place for it to go. And I think the 1922 Committee and the Board of the Tory Party have done really well to get it to a position where that can be done swiftly. I’m in favour of it going to the membership.”
He went on to say it was an error for Tory MPs to dump Mr Johnson, adding: “Boris Johnson’s attraction is that he is a big, charismatic political figure who is able to get things done and who is able to connect with voters in a way no other politician of this era can.”
Analysts at Berenberg Bank said there were greater market risks from a Johnson government, with the Financial Times reporting the bank telling its clients: “Given 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.”
It came as former Tory leader Lord William Hague warned Mr Johnson’s return would lead to a “death spiral” for the Conservative Party. He told Times Radio: “I think it’s possibly the worst idea I’ve heard of in the 46 years I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party.”
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