Boris Johnson must not be allowed to stay at No 10 as a caretaker prime minister over the summer, Sir John Major has said.
In an extraordinary intervention, the former Conservative PM has written to the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers to suggest it would be “unwise” and “unsustainable” for him to stay on for up to three months.
In his letter to Sir Graham Brady, Sir John said: “The proposal for the prime minister to remain in office – for up to three months – having lost the support of his cabinet, his government and his parliamentary party is unwise, and may be unsustainable.”
The former PM said he was worried that Mr Johnson would still have the power to make vital domestic and foreign policy decisions, and maitains “the power of patronage” to make crucial appointments.
“Some will argue that his new cabinet will restrain him. I merely note that his previous cabinet did not – or could not – do so,” the former PM warned.
Sir John suggested deputy prime minister Dominic Raab could be made an acting prime minister until a new Tory leader was elected.
Or, he suggested, Tory MPs could elect the new leader who would become PM, with party members then asked to endorse the decision – effectively removing the members’ stage of the leadership ballot.
The former PM admitted: “Neither of these options is ideal”, before saying the situation required “an imaginative response even at the risk of some bruised feelings within the party”.
Sir John urged Sir Graham to make sure Mr Johnson should not remain “for any longer than necessary to effect the smooth transition of government”.
Or, he suggested, Tory MPs could quickly elect the new leader who would become PM, with party members then asked to endorse the decision – effectively removing the members’ stage of the leadership ballot.
The intervention comes as senior Tory MP Nus Ghani, deputy chair of the 1922 Committee, said Mr Raab should take over from Mr Johnson immediately on an interim basis.
George Freeman – who quit as science minister earlier today – tweeted: “Boris Johnson needs to hand in the seals of office, apologise to Her Majesty and advise her to call for a caretaker prime minister to take over today.”
Rebel Tory Aaron Bell, a red wall MP from the 2019 intake, said: “I think it would be better for the country if we had a caretaker prime minister.”
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng also suggested Mr Johnson should not stay until October, as has been suggested – saying a new leader is needed “as soon as practicable”.
However, one senior Tory figure ridiculed Sir John’s “not very wise” idea and said people should accept a leadership contest can be complete by early September.
“Over August very little happens in government – in some ways it couldnt fall at a better time,” they told The Independent. “Calm down and get on with the process of a replacement.”
Despite frustration about Mr Johnson’s messy exit, one red wall MP told The Independent there was no “appetite” among backbenchers to push for Mr Raab to take over.
Sir Bob Neill said in the Commons there is a “serious question mark” over how long a caretaker PM can remain in place given concerns about effective government, adding: “Might it be in everybody’s interests to speed up the transition as much as possibly can be?”
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said he was worried about “further damage” Mr Johnson could do while he remains caretaker – but said he had been told it would be unconstitutional to install someone else immediately.
He suggested Mr Johnson could still say he was “unwell” and let Mr Raab take over. Challenged on Sky News over whether Mr Johnson was unwell, Mr Bridgen said: “That depends on who you ask.”
Labour will stage a Commons vote to try to force Mr Johnson out of No 10 immediately, if he tries to stay on as caretaker.
Keir Starmer urged Conservative MPs to “get rid of him” now – rather than serve a two-month interim period, while a successor is elected, saying: ”He can’t cling on in this way.”