As Rishi Sunak, a rival for the Conservative leadership, passed the necessary barrier to run for the top post in the UK, the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday returned to the country from vacation to begin an audacious political comeback.
Allies told British media that Johnson was “up for it” and that he had cut short a holiday to the Caribbean in order to run in the contest to succeed departing head Liz Truss.
Early September marked two months after the contentious 58-year-old Brexit architect announced his retirement due to a Tory uprising over a number of scandals.
Even some members of his own split ruling party have criticized his apparent attempt to run for office again just a few weeks later, saying that both the party and the nation need stability and unity.
“We’ve got to go forward, not go back,” Dominic Raab — Johnson’s deputy prime minister — told Sky News, adding an imminent parliamentary inquiry into the “Partygate” scandal that dogged his former boss could prove too distracting.
Raab claimed that Sunak, a former finance minister, was the “standout candidate” because of his background in economics.
After Truss abruptly declared on Thursday that she would resign after only 44 stormy days in office, the Tories were forced into a second, quicker leadership election than they had previously had since the summer.
It came after a terrible mini-budget that cut taxes and caused economic and political unrest, as Sunak had foreseen.
Sunak’s parliamentary allies announced late Friday that he had obtained the 100 Conservative MP nominations required to run for office.
Sunak and Johnson have not yet declared their intentions to run, leaving it to allies to do so.
Penny Mordaunt, a cabinet member who narrowly missed making the final runoff when Johnson resigned, became the first to formally announce her campaign once more on Friday.
The 49-year-old declared that her campaign was for “a new beginning, a unified party, and leadership in the interest of the country.” However, she is already scores of nominations behind her competitors.
In the rushed election, the 357 Conservative MPs will vote on Monday on any candidates who receive the 100 nominations, with a possible online vote of party members later in the week if two candidates are still in the running.
Although there has been a lot of animosity since the previous Prime Ministers defenestration, the Sunak and Johnson camps are allegedly seeking negotiations to determine if there is room for a unity agreement.
Sunak’s resignation from his position as Chancellor of the Exchequer in July played a role in the government uprising that finally resulted in Johnson’s dismissal.
One of Johnson’s closest parliamentary pals, James Duddridge, revealed late Friday that he had been in touch with his former boss over WhatsApp.
“He said… ‘We are going to do this. I’m up for it’,” the MP told Sky News, as the broadcaster published a photograph apparently showing Johnson on a flight home from the Dominican Republic.
‘Wielded the knife’
The ever-jovial former leader has secured the support of numerous influential members of the cabinet, including beloved Tory grassroots favorite and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who is “leaning towards” backing Johnson.
However, Wallace acknowledged that he still had “some questions to answer” about the numerous scandals that enveloped his administration and gave rise to the House of Commons probe that was still to begin.
Johnson could face expulsion from parliament if proven guilty of lying to the Commons about the “Partygate” celebrations that took place in Downing Street and violated the lockdown.
Johnson left Number 10 with poor poll numbers as a result of these scandals, and other Tories seem horrified at the idea of his comeback.
Veteran backbencher Roger Gale foresaw a tsunami of resignations from lawmakers who would not follow Johnson as leader.
A YouGov poll found that 52 percent of respondents opposed his reappearance, despite the fact that he still enjoys support among the members who have the power to determine the battle.
According to a different poll, three out of five respondents now support holding an early general election, which is what the opposition parties are calling for as the cost-of-living situation in Britain continues to deteriorate.
In Sunak’s constituency in Yorkshire, northern England, 58-year-old farmer Elaine Stones said the party had made a mistake in electing Truss instead of him last month.
“He’s honest, reliable and he should have been voted in last time,” she told AFP.
But in a sign of party-wide divisions, retiree Maureen Ward called him a “backstabber” who helped to topple Johnson.
“He wielded the knife and once you do that, you can’t be trusted,” she said.