Boris Johnson is gaining ground in his audacious bid to return to Downing Street despite critics warning he risks plunging the Conservatives into fresh chaos over the impending parliamentary inquiry into the Partygate scandal.
As the former prime minister raced back from his Caribbean holiday to drum up support among MPs, Rishi Sunak remained ahead and the favourite to win with close to 90 publicly declared backers, including Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid, and with his supporters claiming he had passed the threshold of 100 names required to get on the ballot paper.
However, Johnson won the support of six current cabinet ministers – Ben Wallace, Simon Clarke, Chris Heaton-Harris, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Alok Sharma and Anne-Marie Trevelyan – while the former home secretary Priti Patel is believed to be considering coming out in his favour.
Allies of Johnson boasted he would “easily” make the threshold of 100 MPs, and argued he would be a strong contender to win in a ballot of the 150,000 Tory members.
They said he was seeking a “unity pact” with Sunak that could avoid the contest having to go to a members’ vote.
But one rival leadership camp questioned whether he really would reach 100, amid reminders of the way his leadership tore the party apart when he was in Downing Street.
Neither Johnson nor Sunak have yet formally declared, while Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, became the first to announce she was standing. (TG)