A former Tory leader has added insult to injury following Boris Johnson’s step down from the latest Conservative leadership race, claiming the former Prime Minister was “begging” MPs for nominations in a “demeaning” bid to return. Mr Johnson made the announcement that he would not formally stand in the race to replace Liz Truss just the evening before nominations closed. He had claimed to have the necessary 102 MPs backing him, and had cut short a jet-setting stint in the Caribbean in order to return to the UK and rally support for “Boris 2.0”. But former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith humiliated the former PM, who had resigned in August after a litany of scandals, claiming Mr Johnson had been desperately trying – and failing – to get as many MPs on side as possible after a surprising few were interested in supporting him.
Mr Johnson claimed there was a “very good chance” party members would want to put him back in No10 just seven weeks after he was booted out – but said his reason for standing down was that it “would simply not be the right thing to do” without fully uniting the party. While he had claimed to have the support of at least 102 MPs, just 62 of these were public declarations, while Rishi Sunak had already hit 150.
As a result, and following the bowing out of Penny Mordaunt, it was the former Chancellor who yesterday was crowned the next leader of the Conservative party and the next PM, within two months of triggering Mr Johnson’s resignation with his own. Sir Iain, who led the Tories in opposition between 2001 and 2003, suggested that the timing had not been in Mr Johnson’s favour, claiming that he had likely “planned” to allow more time before making his comeback – a plan scuppered by Ms Truss’ catastrophic leadership collapsing “earlier than he had expected”.
The MP told Andrew Marr: “He’d made no plans, he got no team.
“He kind of expected, I think, when he arrived that there would be at least 150 people acclaiming him and this would grow to the majority.
“That didn’t happen. Suddenly he found himself struggling and begging people for votes. That was demeaning really. Then when Rishi and the others said: ‘No, the only deal we’d do with you is if you were serving us, not the other way round’, that of course didn’t suit him.”
The ever-looming shadow of the Partygate inquiry also dominated any hopes Mr Johnson had of returning to the top seat. Sir Iain claimed to have tried to “explain” this to the ex-PM in a conversation two days before he would leave the contest, saying that the “drip, drip, drip” of fallout from the inquiry that will emerge over the next few weeks would have left the party “destabilised”.
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The ever-looming shadow of the Partygate inquiry also dominated any hopes Mr Johnson had of returning to the top seat.
Sir Iain claimed to have tried to “explain” this to the ex-PM in a conversation two days before he would leave the contest, saying that the “drip, drip, drip” of fallout from the inquiry that will emerge over the next few weeks would have left the party “destabilised”. His warnings had initially fallen on deaf ears, however, Sir Iain said, mimicking Mr Johnson’s characteristic bluster, saying “no, no, no, we’ll be alright” and “we’ll sort it out, don’t you worry”.
By contrast, the Tory heavyweight said there had been a “shift” in the Conservative backbench-led 1922 Committee when Mr Sunak appeared in front of it as the new leader.
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He said: “There was almost an exclamation of relief that actually we didn’t have to go to the country, we didn’t have to have another row about it.
He added that Mr Sunak will “will certainly” enjoy a period of relative political harmony in which “people want him to get on with it, to succeed”. However, despite his humiliating remarks about Mr Johnson’s efforts to return to office, Sir Iain indicated this would not be the end of his career in frontline politics.
While he did not say explicitly whether he should be given a spot in Mr Sunak’s Cabinet, Sir Iain did comment that Mr Johnson “can change the weather, good or bad”, adding: “You want a man like that around at some point anyway, so I would hope that in due course Rishi will eventually reach out for him … because we’ll need that campaigning pizzazz when we get to the next election.”
Mr Sunak will make a statement in Downing Street today at around 11.35am after meeting with King Charles, following a statement from the outgoing PM Ms Truss. According to Sky News, the new PM will seek to create a government “of all the talents”, including appointing some of his own critics to high positions, rather than populating his cabinet primarily with those who agree with him, as has been the strategy of Mr Johnson and Ms Truss.