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Jeremy Hunt Says It Would “Take A Lot" To Persuade Him To Run For The Tory Leadership Again

Photo by Baldo Sciacca

3 min read

Exclusive: Jeremy Hunt has said that while his “ambition hasn’t completely vanished” when it comes to running for Conservative party leader, “it would take a lot to persuade me to put my hat into the ring”.

The former health secretary, who now chairs the health and social care select committee, said he had “enjoyed being on the backbenches much more than I thought”.

Boris Johnson's reputation and authority as Prime Minister have taken a battering in recent weeks following allegations of a string of parties in Downing Street while the country was under strict lockdown rules. Johnson has said that he “believed implicitly” that the event he has admitted attending was a “work event”.

Speaking to The House magazine, Hunt said that he hoped the government could “weather this storm and there isn’t a leadership election” amid growing speculation over Boris Johnson’s future.

Hunt, who previously ran for party leader in 2019 following the resignation of then-PM Theresa May, is is one of several senior Tories considered to be a strong contender to replace Johnson.

Last time around, the then-foreign secretary was backed by a third of Conservative members in the final round of voting, having beaten fellow Cabinet minister Michael Gove to make it to the final two.

Johnson ultimately won the contest with 66% of the members’ vote, having been backed by 160 Conservative MPs to Hunt’s 77.

Hunt turned down a role in Johnson’s first Cabinet, choosing to return to the backbenches before being picked to head the health select committee. 

Several prominent Tory MPs including Andrew Bridgen, William Wragg, Douglas Ross, Caroline Nokes and Sir Roger Gale have called on Johnson to consider his position.

MPs have also reported that they’ve received “hundreds” of angry emails from constituents criticising the Prime Minister for attending the 20 May Downing Street gathering in spite of coronavirus rules.

“I think the issues around ‘partygate’ are substantive issues,” Hunt told The House magazine.

“They are important issues and we're now waiting for the results of the independent inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened.”

He expressed tentative support for the beleaguered Prime Minister, however, adding that “we have to give Boris great credit” for his successes with the vaccine programme and securing a Brexit deal.

Amid growing calls for a leadership contest, foreign secretary Liz Truss is said to be actively courting support and is holding regular “fizz with Liz” meetings with potential allies in her Parliamentary offices

Other party favourites for the next Conservative leader include Hunt, chancellor Rishi Sunak, levelling up secretary Michael Gove and home secretary Priti Patel, while trade minister Penny Mourdant has also emerged as a “dark horse” candidate.

But Hunt has denied he is actively considering a run. "I wasn't expecting to leave the government in 2019, but I've enjoyed being on the backbenches much more than I thought," he said. 

“I won't say my ambition has completely vanished, but it would take a lot to persuade me to put my hat into the ring."

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