Tory leadership race – Boris Johnson says he is ‘up for it’

Boris Johnson ponders No 10 comeback following Liz Truss’s exit

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He is due to jet back from holiday in the Caribbean on Saturday as momentum gathers behind a tilt at becoming Prime Minister for a second time. Allies insist he is “hungry” to return to No.10 so he can finish the job for Britain and settle “unfinished business”.

Mr Johnson is vying with arch-rival Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt to replace Liz Truss who sensationally quit on Thursday.

He is tipped to officially announce his candidacy this weekend.

In a massive boost, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace backed his former boss for the top job on Friday along with Cabinet ministers Jacob Rees-Mogg, Anne-Marie Trevelyan Simon Clarke and Alok Sharma.

It would mark a stunning return for Mr Johnson just six weeks after he was ousted from power amid a flood of resignations over Partygate and sleaze.

Trade minister Sir James Duddridge on Friday night said he had spoken to Mr Johnson, declaring: “I’ve been in contact with the boss via WhatsApp.

“He’s going to fly back. He said, ‘I’m flying back, Dudders, we are going to do this. I’m up for it’.”

“Boris is coming and he has the momentum and support. He is the only election winner we have that has a proven track record in London, on Brexit and in gaining the mandate we have now.”

Candidates to replace Ms Truss need support from at least 100 of the 357 Tory MPs by 2pm on Monday.

She resigned just six weeks into the job, making her tumultuous premiership the shortest in British history.

By Friday night more than 60 MPs had indicated they would back Mr Johnson in next week’s contest.

Around 80 MPs have signalled they would back Mr Sunak, with another 20 swinging behind Commons leader Ms Mordaunt.

It means there is support from almost 200 Tory MPs still up for grabs.

Respected Mr Wallace – a long-time ally of the ex-PM – said he is “leaning towards” backing Mr Johnson, praising him for his record on investing in defence and pointing to the “huge majority” he won in 2019.

“This will be potentially our third prime minister since the general election of 2019 – that means we have to think about that legitimacy question that the public will be asking themselves, and also about who could win the next election – that’s obviously important for any political party at the time.”

With the leadership contest hotting up Mr Johnson has been personally phoning MPs from his Dominican Republic holiday to woo colleagues and assuring them he will definitely be a candidate.

During one call he reportedly told an MP that he “accepted mistakes were made” and promised that “a future Downing Street he leads would have to be a different culture.”

They added: “For me, there are a number of factors at play here, not least the looming question of legitimacy of the third Prime Minister since the general election. Boris Johnson has the mandate.”

Mr Rees-Mogg said Conservative Party members should decide who is the next leader, rather than a stitch-up between MPs.

The Business Secretary said that returning Boris Johnson to 10 Downing Street next week would calm the financial markets because it would mean that a general election would not need to be held until late 2024.

Mr Rees-Mogg said he was against some sort of deal between Mr Johnson and his rivals, Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, to stop party members having a say.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “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.”

Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan gave her backing to Mr Johnson saying: “I have worked closely with BorisJohnson for many years. He can continue to deliver for the country and already has a mandate. It’s time to bring-back-boris.”

Mr Johnson’s supporters have been boasting he could end up with more than 140 nominations, easily passing the 100 threshold needed to make the ballot on Monday afternoon.

However, as infighting in the party intensified critics swiped that his fans are noisy rather than numerous, predicting he will fall short of the numbers – while Mr Sunak is already well on his way to cresting that total.

A Rishi camp MP said there was “limited scope” for Mr Johnson because the pool is “mostly his old guard and Red Wall who are inexperienced and petrified”.

Another Sunakite suggested that Mr Johnson’s campaign is stalling and he will not run if he only gets 105 nominations because he is “thin-skinned” and “only plays games he knows he can win”.

“He wants to be Frank Sinatra doing a comeback tour and all the theatres are sold out. He won’t do it if they are half-empty,” the MP jibed.

Supporters of Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt say their goal over the weekend is to hit the phones and persuade colleagues to “keep Boris out of the final two”.

“If he gets to the members we have a problem,” one MP said.

“The whole intent over the weekend is to keep Boris out of the final two. Some of those who have come out for Boris are the usual headbangers – but many are sensible. If the numbers creep up, we’ll be having more aggressive conversations with people, telling them not to be so stupid.”

They said that even those who have already publicly stated their support for Mr Johnson would be targeted, adding: “Apart from the proposer and seconder on the ballot paper, everyone else is anonymous. So no one will ever know [if they change sides].”

Suella Braverman, who was forced out as home secretary by Ms Truss, and International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, are also thought to be weighing possible challenges having both stood in July. If Mr Johnson does stand, his candidacy is likely to prove highly divisive within the party – with some MPs warning they would resign the Tory whip and sit in the Commons as independents if he returns to Downing Street.

Supporters of Mr Johnson believe that if he can make it to the last two, he will win in the final online ballot of party activists with whom he remains hugely popular.

Brits split in half over new PM

Voters are split over whether Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak should be Prime Minister, according to a new poll, writes Martyn Brown.

With the race to Downing Street intensifying the pair are both on 25 percent, according to the Savanta ComRes survey for the Daily Express.

Most people are undecided as to who they want to replace Liz Truss with 26 percent saying they “don’t know” who they want to win next week’s Tory leadership contest.

No other potential candidate scored more than eight percent.

On Friday night only Penny Mordaunt had formally declared she was standing but Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson were racing ahead in terms of nominations – setting up a clash between allies turned bitter rivals.

Around 65 MPs have signalled they will back the former Chancellor compared to around 45 for the ex-PM and 20 for the House of Commons leader Ms Mordaunt.

Candidates will need the backing of 100 Tory MPs by 2pm on Monday to take part – five times the threshold set for the last contest in the Summer.

The Savanta ComRes poll, which was carried out exclusively for the Daily Express shortly before Liz Truss quit, shows that most people want a General Election now that she has resigned.

More than two-thirds (68 percent) say it’s time to have a nationwide vote once Ms Truss’s successor is decided.

Some 22 percent said they didn’t want an election while nine percent said they didn’t know.

Voters also want the new PM to commit to the triple lock on pensions with 65 percent saying they want it kept.

The Tory manifesto promise that protects millions of retirees from inflation was placed in jeopardy when new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt refused to commit to it when he ditched Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget on Monday.

But Ms Truss said the policy was staying put during Prime Minister’s Questions two days later.

The survey showed that 21 percent of people want the commitment dropped and 14 percent said: “don’t know”.

Dennis Reed, of the Silver Voices campaign group, said older people want the next Prime Minister to “fully commit” to the Triple Lock.

“Older voters have the power to swing the next election so woe betide the leadership candidates who dismiss or ignore our issues,” he said.

“With all our worries for a cold and cheerless Christmas, we need some good news for once, including a triple lock rise brought forward and radical action on the health and social care crisis.”

The poll also reveals that eight in 10 people are worried that the government’s energy bill support package will come to an end in April.

The scheme – which sees the typical bill capped at £2,500 – was initially supposed to last two years but Mr Hunt announced last week that it will end in the Spring.

The Treasury will review how people should be supported from that point on, he said.

Campaigners have warned households are now facing a “cliff edge” on their energy bills once the scheme finishes.

Overall, 84 percent of people surveyed said they are worried about their financial situation because the energy package is being scaled back in April and 13 percent are not concerned.

Just over a quarter (28 percent) said they felt more secure now that Mr Hunt had taken over in the Treasury from Mr Kwarteng compared to 25 percent who said they were less secure.

Mr Kwarteng’s tax-cutting mini-budget last month sent the Pound falling, spooked financial markets and caused lenders to withdraw fixed-rate mortgages.

It ultimately led to Ms Truss’s demise.

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Mr Hunt has binned most of it since his appointment a week ago.

Worryingly for the government, the poll of 2,107 adults showed almost three-quarters (72 percent) are “not confident” that the soaring number of migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats can be reduced.

So far this year 37,500 have made the perilous journey despite repeated promises by ministers to take decisive action.

Just 17 percent said they are “confident” the government can get a grip of the situation.

The Rwanda asylum scheme, which was supposed to act as a deterrent, has failed to take off due to Human Rights legal challenges.

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