LONDON—Months after his own party’s lawmakers forced him to quit as prime minister,
is poised to attempt a comeback.
Dozens of Tory lawmakers publicly backed Mr. Johnson on Friday, as candidates vied to replace Prime Minister
who stepped down after 45 days on the job when her proposed policy of large tax cuts and spending increases sent markets reeling.
In a television interview on Friday, Defense Secretary
said he was leaning toward supporting Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson, 58, hasn’t publicly stated whether he is running and his aides declined to comment. But several allies said he would enter the race if he can gather the 100 nominations from among the Conservative Party’s 357 lawmakers required to stand for the role.
“I’ve spoken to someone that’s spoken to him and he’s on the way back. And clearly, he’s taking soundings,“ Will Walden, a former press secretary to Mr. Johnson, told Sky News.
On Friday, Conservative candidates were canvassing colleagues seeking support. If more than one candidate reaches the nomination threshold by the deadline on Monday afternoon, the final winner will be picked by 170,000 Conservative Party members.
Mr. Johnson retains a strong base of support among members.
A survey released Thursday by People Polling found that 38% of Conservative voters want Mr. Johnson to lead the party compared with 20% for
who served as Mr. Johnson’s Treasury chief before resigning and setting the stage for Mr. Johnson’s ouster.
Mr. Sunak has been considered the leading contender to succeed Ms. Truss. Oddsmaker William Hill gives Mr. Sunak a 54% chance of winning. Mr. Johnson’s odds are 40%. Mr. Sunak hasn’t yet commented on whether he intends to run.
The possible return of Mr. Johnson elicited a mixed reaction from Conservative lawmakers. Several, even some who don’t support him, privately said Mr. Johnson could make a comeback if he succeeds in uniting the euroskeptic right wing of the party around him.
“He is the ultimate in the emergency break glass candidate,” says
professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “Anything could happen.”
Mr. Johnson’s support among some Tories lays bare the deep ideological divides within the party, which is split by competing views on whether to embrace low regulation and free trade or more interventionism and protectionism.
Supporters of Mr. Johnson said he is the only person who can hold together the broad working-class-to-bankers voting coalition that delivered a landslide electoral win for the Tories in 2019. With the Conservatives polling at a historic low of 14%, some in the party think he is the best chance to save the Tories from electoral humiliation at the next election, which must be held by January 2025.
Detractors say that Mr. Johnson’s political brand is too damaged. He was evicted from office after an unprecedented rebellion of roughly 50 of his ministers quit over the summer to protest a series of scandals. The most high-profile scandal was his attendance at a party during a Covid-19 lockdown, for which the police fined him.
Several lawmakers took to
to say they would quit the party if Mr. Johnson won. When asked for his thoughts, one former Tory minister simply replied on WhatsApp with a screaming face emoji.
A parliamentary inquiry into whether Mr. Johnson lied to lawmakers after denying a series of parties took place in Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns is about to get under way. Mr. Johnson denies he knowingly lied to Parliament.
If the inquiry finds he did, lawmakers could vote to suspend Mr. Johnson from the House of Commons for a number of days and potentially trigger an election in his district.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What is the lesson for other potential leaders from the rapid rise and fall of Ms. Truss? Join the conversation below.
Appointing Boris Johnson as Conservative leader would catapult the party “straight back into the pickle we were in when he was in office,” said lawmaker
Mr. Johnson’s political hero, Winston Churchill, lost an election in 1945 but returned to power in 1951. Even as he quit, Mr. Johnson hinted he would return. In his last speech to Parliament, he quoted Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” signing off with “Hasta la vista, baby!” Tory officials took it as an oblique reference to another famous Terminator quote: “I’ll be back.”
The former prime minister loomed large in the race to succeed him. In September, when Tory members were choosing between Ms. Truss and Mr. Sunak, more than 10,000 Conservative members signed a petition by a Tory donor to have Mr. Johnson added to the ballot as a third option.
“The membership are very upset about what has happened to our elected leader and we demand our say,” the petition said.
Write to Max Colchester at [email protected]
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8