Boris Johnson is enjoying a surge in support among Tory MPs and has a “very” good chance of returning to No 10, a former aide is predicting.
Tim Montgomerie, now a Johnson critic, said suggestions that the disgraced former prime minister will struggle to secure the 100 backers required to join the leadership race are wrong.
Once in the contest, Mr Johnson would then be in a strong position to triumph in a ballot of Tory members – many of whom loathe his likely rival, the former chancellor Rishi Sunak, he said.
Asked how “seriously” people should take the prospect of a Johnson return, Mr Montgomerie replied: “Very. I’ve changed my own opinion over the last 24 hours.
“I’m now hearing from two or three people I really respect – who are usually very good at the numbers – that he is not only likely to pass the 100 MPs’ threshold but could get close to 140.”
At least 37 Tory MPs have declared their support for Mr Johnson, who has not yet announced he will run but is thought to be about to fly back from a Caribbean holiday to do so.
But he still faces a contempt inquiry into whether he lied to parliament over the Partygate scandal – which could trigger his suspension – and many other Conservatives are appalled by the prospect.
David Lidington, the effective deputy prime minister under Theresa May, said Mr Johnson would not deliver the “competence” the country needs, even setting aside the accusations of deceit.
“I think he has had his chance and the Conservative parliamentary party concluded just a few months ago this could not go on and it would not be right for him to continue as prime minister – that, after all, is why he resigned,” he said.
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