Boris Johnson has privately said he “does not want to resign” and “wished he could carry on” as prime minister, according to a Tory peer.
Lord Cruddas, a former Conservative party treasurer, who is mounting a grassroots campaign to support the outgoing prime minister, said the remarks were made to him by Mr Johnson at Chequers on Friday.
It comes as Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, and former chancellor Rishi Sunak, prepare for their first head-to-head debate in the final round of the Tory leadership contest and race to replace Mr Johnson in No 10.
Earlier this month, the prime minister reluctantly set out his decision to resign — once a new leader is elected in September — after facing mass resignations from the ministerial ranks, and a fatal cabinet revolt.
Lord Cruddas, who has organised a petition urging the party to put Mr Johnson on the Tory leadership ballot, told The Daily Telegraph that the prime minister thanked him for the campaign during lunch at his Chequers residence.
Under the existing Conservative Party rules, Mr Johnson is forbidden from standing in the leadership election, and MPs have already selected Ms Truss and Mr Sunak for a final vote among members this summer.
The Telegraph reported Lord Cruddas as saying: “There was no ambiguity in Boris’s views. He definitely does not want to resign. He wants to carry on and he believes that, with the membership behind him, he can.”
The peer added: “Boris thanked me for ‘Boris on the ballot’ campaign. He said he was enjoying following it and he wished me well.
“He said he could understand the membership’s anger at what had happened. He said that he wished that he could carry on as prime minister. He said he does not want to resign”.
The newspaper said Mr Johnson, when asked by the peer if he could “wipe away” his resignation immediately with a “magic wand”, reportedly replied: “I would wipe away everything that stops me being PM in a second”.
He added that Mr Johnson — despite dire poll ratings — believed he could win a general election, saying: “He wants to carry on and finish the job. He wants to fight the next general election as leader of the Conservative party.”
But after the comments emerged, Downing Street responded insisting Mr Johnson will leave the post in September when a new leader is elected.
“The prime minister has resigned as party leader and set out his intention to stand down as PM when the new leader is in place,” a No 10 spokesperson said on Monday.
Setting out his resignation earlier this month, Mr Johnson said he would continue to “serve” in Downing Street until a new leader is elected, insisting “no one is remotely indisepensable” in politics.
“I regret not to have been successful in those arguments and of course it’s painful not to be able to see through so many ideas and projects myself,” he added. “But as we’ve seen, at Westminster the herd instinct is powerful, when the herd moves, it moves.