LONDON — Boris Johnson is considering a surprising political comeback. His enemies within the Tory Party are already plotting how to stop him.

The former UK prime minister, ousted just three months ago after a massive strike by his own ministers, is considering running to become Tory leader following the disastrous tenure of his successor Liz Truss, who resigned on Thursday after 44 days in power. .

Conservative MPs joked darkly over drinks on the House of Commons terrace last week that Truss, whose mini-budget unleashed chaos in financial markets last month, had achieved a lot in her short time in office by “ bury the queen, the pound… and the conservative party.”

And it is exactly that fear – that the Tories now face annihilation in the next election – that Johnson will hope to capitalize on, having spectacularly revived the Tories’ fortunes in the last general election of 2019.

A subgroup of Conservative MPs, notably some of the post-industrial parts of northern England who first voted Conservative three years ago, still believe Johnson is in the best position to help them keep their seats. “The 2024 election is going to be super tough,” noted a Tory MP considering his options.

But many senior conservative figures fear that a return to Johnson, now a hugely divisive figure, could permanently split the party. And a coordinated effort is already underway to curb his bid for power.

“The party will fall apart under Boris,” said a former loyalist MP. “MPs are already saying they would defect or give up the whip. He just doesn’t wash off.”

“I will stop Boris at all costs,” another MP added. “If he wins, it means the end of the Conservative Party.” A third said they were determined to tactically vote against Johnson and that he might leave the party for good if he won.

Former Conservative leader Michael Howard put it bluntly on Thursday night, warning that Johnson’s return would only result in more “psychodrama” for the nation, telling Times Radio: “Boris had his chance.”

Any hope of Johnson returning is complicated by new rules put in place for the contest to replace Truss.

After meeting on Thursday afternoon, Tory Party bigwigs unveiled a plan that presents a roadblock for the former prime minister. Anyone who wants to enter the contest will need the support of at least 100 deputies. That imposes an unusually high threshold for Johnson to leapfrog his warring parliamentary colleagues and make it to the final vote of the party’s roughly 180,000 rank-and-file members, among whom he would be the favorite to win.

“Let’s see if it gets to 100. It’s a high bar,” a senior conservative figure told POLITICO.

‘Any serious candidate’

Indeed, Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Tory committee, which sets the rules for leadership elections, and Jake Berry, the Tory chairman, faced questions on Thursday about whether the rules were a “gimmick”. ” to keep Johnson out.

Brady simply insisted that the 100-vote threshold was one “that should be reached by any serious candidate who has any real chance of passing.”

Nadine Dorries is among those who support Johnson | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

There are even rumors in Westminster that senior party figures are pushing former leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt to strike a deal where, if they both make it to the second round, whoever has the fewest votes will withdraw from the contest and support the other. That would crown a new leader early next week, bypassing the need for a vote by Conservative members altogether.

However, the biggest challenge to such a deal would be ensuring that both Sunak and Mordaunt make it to the ballot, given the significant overlap between their MP supporters.

Johnson’s critics fear he will rack up votes from the Conservative right and then cross the 100-member threshold. “He cannot be stopped,” warned a Tory MP critical of Johnson. “He will get enough from the parliamentary party to be between the two finalists.”

If there are three candidates for the leadership on Monday, Conservative MPs will vote to reduce the list to two. They will then hold an indicative vote among the finalists, as a way of showing members which potential prime minister actually has the support of the parliamentary party.

Bring back boris

Without making a single public statement since Truss resigned, Johnson has already gained momentum. Around two dozen Conservative MPs had declared their support for him on Thursday night. A similar number have backed Sunak, who angered Johnson’s supporters earlier this year by resigning from his administration and helping precipitate Johnson’s downfall.

Johnson’s allies argue that he is the only candidate mandated by the public thanks to the 2019 election. The Tories are installing their second prime minister in as many months without going to the country, and are already under heavy pressure to call new elections. generals.

Backing Johnson, Peterborough MP Paul Bristow told Sky News on Thursday: “We need an election winner and we had an election winner. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll listen to my constituents, and his message was ‘bring Boris back’.”

“One person was elected by the British public with a manifesto and a mandate until January 25,” tweeted Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary who is an outspoken supporter of Johnson. “There can be no coronation of previously unsuccessful candidates.”

Cabinet Office minister Brendan Clarke-Smith said: “We need someone who can turn the tide and avert disaster from a Labor government. We need Boris Johnson.”

But for Johnson, Truss’s quick departure may almost have come too soon. There are bear traps lying in wait if he returns, including an investigation by the House of Commons privileges committee into claims that he misled MPs during the so-called Partygate scandal. The investigation, which has led Johnson to recruit lawyers, has yet to begin and will see a number of witnesses testify against him. He could face serious penalties if MPs find him guilty.

Robert Jenrick, a minister who served in Johnson’s cabinet, told the News Agents podcast that the former prime minister was “one of the greatest activists in modern political history.”

But he warned of Johnson: “His term as prime minister came to an end for a reason, and that is that there were serious questions about competence, credibility and ethics. Does the Conservative Party want to go back to that?

With the leadership nominations closing on Monday afternoon, Britain won’t have long to wait to find out.

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