Boris Johnson knew his recent comeback bid was “not his last chance” and will bide his time, according to a former minister. It comes as chair of the Tory’s 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady has confirmed the ex-PM, who left No 10 in September, had the numbers to challenge Rishi Sunak in the Tory leadership race.
The charismatic 58-year-old fuelled speculation of a dramatic return to Downing Street when he rushed back from a family holiday in the Caribbean following Liz Truss’s resignation last month.
But on what was a weekend of high drama he later ruled himself out of the race having never officially entered, paving the way for the former Chancellor to take the top job.
One ex-minister who backed Mr Johnson told Express.co.uk: “He knew he would win with members but he could not control the Parliamentary party.
“There would have been resignations and it would have been too difficult.”
Another former minister added: “I think Boris understood that this was not his last chance.
“It’s going to get difficult for Sunak and it is quite possible he may end up being forced out as well.
“Then the way is open for Boris to come back.”
It comes as Sir Graham confirmed Mr Johnson had the 100 nominations required from fellow Tory MPs to make it to the online ballot of members.
The chair of the powerful 1922 Committee told the BBC that “two candidates” had reached the threshold but “one of them decided not to then submit his nomination”.
Mr Johnson ruled himself out of the Tory leadership race despite saying he had secured 102 nominations.
The ex-PM, who left office following a series of scandals, admitted he could not unite his warring party.
But he insisted he believed he was “well placed” to deliver a Conservative victory at the 2024 general election and that if he had gone ahead with his bid there was a “very good chance” he would have won the vote by the party faithful against Mr Sunak.
In a hint of a future comeback, Mr Johnson said: “I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”
He had sparked speculation of a return like his political hero Sir Winston Churchill with his farewell address outside 10 Downing Street in September with its reference to Cincinnatus, who was recalled from his farm to save ancient Rome from crisis.
Acid-penned biographer Tom Bower, who has written a book on Mr Johnson, predicts he will make a return in 2028 or 2029.
The investigative journalist previously told Express.co.uk: “I think that Labour will clearly get in at the next election.
“It depends on the Tories, how they rebuild themselves, but I would have thought he will have a chance towards the end of the decade.
“Once the Tories have been in opposition for a number of years and they are looking for a new leader. I think he’s got a chance in 2028 or 2029.”
Mr Johnson this week insisted continuing to support Ukraine was his “priority” after being pressed on a comeback.
During an interview with Sky News, he was asked by presenter Mark Austin: “Do you still harbour hopes of returning as Prime Minister? Is it unfinished business?”
The ex-Prime Minister, who is widely viewed as a hero in Kyiv for his support in the face of Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion, said: “I harbour hopes of continuing to campaign for Ukraine and that is my priority.
“There are various other things I’m doing but that is of course very dear to my heart.”
Polling for Express.co.uk by Techne last week found a quarter of people would prefer Mr Johnson as PM over Mr Sunak, who was instrumental in his downfall.