Tory MP Jeremy Hunt has not ruled out a second run at the leadership of the Conservative Party, saying: “We’ll have to see what the circumstances are.”
The former cabinet minister also stood by his view that the Tories will lose the next general election if Boris Johnson remains leader, but stressed that the result would be decided on the economy rather than the Partygate scandal.
It comes after the prime minister narrowly survived a confidence vote in June, which severely weakened his authority in the Tory party, and soon after suffered a double defeat in the Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton by-elections.
Mr Hunt, who ran against Mr Johnson for the leadership of the party in 2019, has previously hinted he would stand again for the position should Mr Johnson resign or be forced from No 10.
Asked again whether he would stand in a future Tory leadership contest, Mr Hunt told an Institute for Government event on Monday: “I think we have to see what the circumstances are and then make a decision on that one.”
The former health secretary and foreign secretary under Theresa May also swerved questions on whether he would a win a leadership contest, declining to engage in “hypothetical questions”.
Pressed on Mr Johnson’s electoral chances should he remain in position as Tory leader, Mr Hunt said the next general election “won’t be decided on whether or not there were inappropriate parties in Downing Street during the pandemic”.
He added: “I think the next election will be decided on the economy. And the core reason that ordinary voters vote Conservative is because they think that we will look after the economy better, and therefore there’ll be better prospects for them and their families.
“But at the moment, because of all the global shocks that we’ve had, people don’t feel that confidence. So I think that the biggest single challenge is to get the economy growing again.”
Asked about whether Mr Johnson’s government got the “big calls right” during the Covid pandemic – a claim often made by ministers and loyal Tory MPs – Mr Hunt said some things went “badly wrong” in 2020.
“And then we got some things spectacularly right,” he added. “In the first half of the pandemic we didn’t follow what they were doing in Korea, in Taiwan, which were so successful in containing the virus.
“We ended up having to have a lockdown. Having got ourselves in that position, we took too long to implement it – the virus had really taken hold.
“At the very same time, Boris was ordering 400 million doses of vaccines without actually knowing if they would work.
“And that meant that we had the best vaccine programme, and the MHRA-approved vaccines, before any other regulator in the world. Unfortunately it’s one of those things it’s impossible to give a clean view on.”