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Mon, 30 January 2023

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Boris Johnson Rules Himself Out Of Tory Leadership Contest

Boris Johnson Rules Himself Out Of Tory Leadership Contest

Boris Johnson swears into Parliament. (Alamy)

5 min read

Boris Johnson has ruled himself out of the Tory leadership contest having returned to London from the Caribbean after the race to find a new Prime Minister to replace Liz Truss got underway on Thursday.

The former PM said he was dropping out despite being "overwhelmed" by support.

"I have been attracted because I led our party into a massive election victory less than three years ago - and I believe I am therefore uniquely placed to avert a general election now," he said.

Johnson claimed he was "well placed" to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 and said he had cleared the "very high hurdle of 102 nominations".

But he said he was dropping out because he had "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".

He added: "And though I have reached out to both Rishi and Penny - because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest - we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this.

"Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds.

"I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid this is simply not the right time."

Johnson was forced to stand down as Prime Minister in July after mass government resignations in response to his handling of sexual assault allegations against Conservative MP Chris Pincher. Pincher had the whip removed in the wake of a succession of scandals surrounding Johnson's administration in Downing Street. 

But despite Johnson's recent demise, at the end of last week a campaign to return the former Prime Minister to No.10 had gained significant momentum in Westminster after Liz Truss resigned on Thursday. During just 45 days in office, Truss had u-turned on almost all of her policy agenda after the catastrophic "mini-Budget" contributed to soaring interest rates and sinking the value of the pound. 

Candidates to become the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister need the backing of 100 MPs to make it onto Monday's leadership ballot.

Currently, Rishi Sunak is the only candidate to have cleared the hurdle, and looks increasingly likely to become the UK's next Prime Minister. Commons leader Penny Mordaunt has also announced her leadership bid, but is struggling to pick up enough support from her colleagues to clear the threshold by 2pm on Monday.

Johnson's supporters argued he was the only candidate with a mandate to govern after he won an 80 seat majority in the 2019 General Election, and that installing the third Prime Minister since then would force an early election. With Labour maintaining historic poll leads, there is concern in the Conservative party that they would be decimated if the country were to vote again now. 

"Boris has the mandate to deliver our elected manifesto and a proven track record getting the big decisions right," former Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a tweet declaring her support for Johnson on Saturday morning. 

But some senior Tories who have previously backed Johnson do not believe he should be returned as Prime Minister.  

Former Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on Saturday that while he could see Johnson making a return to frontline politics, he did not believe he should become Prime Minister again. 

"We can't have another episode of the Groundhog Day, of the soap opera, the party game," Raab said.

"We must get the country and the government moving forward."

He believed that an investigation by the Privileges Committee into Johnson's involvement in parties in Downing Street while the country was subject to severe Covid lockdowns would prove too much of a distraction from the important work of salvaging the economy and tackling precarious energy supplies this winter. 

"Whether you're an arch Boris fan, or an arch Boris critic, I don't see how you can reconcile returning to front line politics with that committee looming," he added. 

Momentum continues to grow behind Sunak, with Raab pointing to support for the ex-Chancellor from across the party, including former cabinet minister Sajid Javid, and International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who is widely regarded by MPs on the right of the party.

"He is also the politician who set out what is clearly the right plan to get financial stability, market stability, inflation and interest down and get the country moving forward," he said.

Conservatives who spoke to PoliticsHome at the end of last week worried the party might now be broken beyond repair. The latest survey of Westminster voting intention by YouGov found that 56 per cent of people would vote Labour, while only 19 per cent would vote Conservative. 

A former senior Tory aide told PoliticsHome that winning the next general election was "almost impossible" for the party and that this latest leadership contest was more about damage limitation.

“The Conservative Party is at a critical stage of make or break, damaged by poor leadership decisions, turbulence and political infighting," they said.

"The next leader must be committed to repairing that damage, unifying the party and crucially, restoring trust and credibility among the electorate. Securing a fifth term is almost impossible, so MPs and members must think carefully about who will give the party its best fighting chance.”

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