Boris Johnson could still make a stunning return as Prime Minister before the next general election if Rishi Sunak doesn’t do enough to close the gap in the polls with the Labour Party, allies have claimed. Last Sunday, Mr Johnson pulled out of the Conservative Party leadership contest to replace the resigning Liz Truss after deciding it was too soon for him to unite the bickering MPs in the party that led to his downfall in July. This cleared the way for Mr Sunak to become the new Tory leader and Prime Minister, which was formally confirmed earlier this week.
Despite his decision to withdraw from the leadership contest, Mr Johnson’s campaign team had claimed he had reached the threshold of 100 MPs needed to get on the ballot paper.
Now allies of the Prime Minister fear Mr Sunak may struggle to beat Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the polls.
They believe Tory MPs could turn to former Prime Minister Mr Johnson – who led the party to a huge 80-seat majority in the 2019 General Election – in the months leading up to the next national vote, which at the moment is scheduled for 2024.
One friend told the MailOnline: “He thinks the job is not done. It’s just not quite the right time. The Parliamentary party is not in quite the right place. But it is probably a matter of time.
“As the next election approaches, the focus of Tory MPs will switch increasingly to who can win and who can save their seat. If they don’t think the current lot can do it, he (Boris) will always be there as the emergency cord.”
The source added: “These days you need a tripartite mandate – you need the MPs, the Tory membership and the country. Sunak has got the MPs but it’s yet to be confirmed whether he can get the other two.”
Mr Sunak has only been in the top job less than a week, but already the signs are encouraging for the new Prime Minister.
The first polls suggest the former Chancellor has made some progress closing the gap on Labour but is still significantly some way off if the Tories are to have any hope of winning the next General Election.
READ MORE: Rishi Sunak hit by Boris Johnson problem as new PM faces battle ahead
While insisting he had a “very good chance of winning”, Mr Johnson added in a statement: “I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do.
“You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament. I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”
Earlier this week, Mr Johnson also congratulated his former Chancellor Mr Sunak on becoming the UK’s new Prime Minister and called on Tory MPs to get fully behind him.
Sir Keir Starmer said he had put his head in his hands at the prospect of Mr Johnson running for the Tory leadership.
The Labour leader told LBC his “first sentiment” on hearing the former Prime Minister had ruled himself out of the race was that “he didn’t have the numbers” required to secure a spot on the Tory ballot.
He said: “But when he first said that he was going to run, and everybody was sort of rallying around, I did put my head in my hands and think, so, really, we’re going to go from the Prime Minister who’s just crashed the economy, back to the guy that only months ago, most of us were saying was unfit for office.
“It was never going to work, I don’t think.”
Sir Keir added: “The less time now spent on this sort of chaotic, ridiculous circus at the top of the Tory party, the better.”