As Boris Johnson Plots His Return, Remember What Tory MPs Said About Him?

Conservatives blasted his "self-serving approach" - but Johnson could be their leader and PM again next week.
Could Boris Johnson return to Downing Street?
Could Boris Johnson return to Downing Street?

Shortly after Liz Truss announced her resignation on Thursday, Theresa May made a public call for an “orderly” transition. “It is our duty to provide sensible, competent government,” the former prime minister soberly told her party.

Thousands of miles away on holiday in the Caribbean, Boris Johnson decided he had other ideas.

After the unmitigated chaos of the Truss premiership which has seen the party’s poll ratings tank, many Tory MPs would have been hoping for a bit of calm.

But the prospect of Johnson moving back into Downing Street - with his £840-a-roll golden wallpaper - has shattered any notion of unity.

Some MPs are reportedly considering resigning the party whip if he returns. Others are thrilled.

Brendan Clarke-Smith, a minister in the Cabinet Office, told the BBC Johnson deserved resurrection as he had been unfairly “picked on”. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the business secretary, announced his support tweeting the hashtag ”#BorisorBust”.

Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing & Shoreham, hit back in public. “Jacob, how on earth can that slogan be remotely helpful to the party given the strong possibility that the next PM will not be Boris?” he said. “You really should think this through properly if you have any interest in party unity.”

Foreign Office minister Jesse Norman warned bluntly: “Choosing Boris now would be — and I say this advisedly — an absolutely catastrophic decision.”

One cabinet minister told HuffPost UK: “This is about survival at the next election. The main question is ‘who will limit the slaughter?’ If Boris is better than Rishi then he will win.”

And Andrew Bridgen, the Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “I fear that the party is going to reach for the perceived comfort blanket of Boris Johnson but I don’t see how he can unite the party when 63 members of his government resigned only a few weeks ago.”

The country will discover who the new PM will be by Friday at the latest. To make it onto the ballot candidates have to secure the backing of 100 MPs. This means a maximum of three can run. It currently looks like the most likely trio are Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Johnson.

If there are two candidates remaining in the race on Monday evening, Conservative Party members will pick the winner. Polling shows Johnson is the overwhelming favourite of the grassroots.

If he makes it onto the ballot it is hard to see how he loses a vote of the membership.

Just 107 days ago, Johnson resigned as prime minister, dragged out of office amid scandal.

He had been fined by police for breaking his own Covid laws and was accused of lying to parliament about it. The final straw was the revelation he also appointed Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip despite knowing about allegations of sexual misconduct.

Resigning ministers and backbenchers buffeted Johnson with criticism as they called for him to go.

This is what some said at the time.

Jeremy Hunt, who now as chancellor is drawing up a fiscal plan due to be unveiled on October 31, savaged Johnson in June as “not giving the British people the leadership they deserve”.

“We are not offering the integrity, competence and vision necessary to unleash the enormous potential of our country,” he said of the party.

Nadhim Zahawi, now Cabinet Office minister, told Johnson in July to “go now” - shortly after having been appointed chancellor.

Kemi Badenoch, now the international trade secretary, resigned her then ministerial post, warning that under Johnson “government cannot function”.

Brandon Lewis, now justice secretary, said of Johnson as he resigned as Northern Ireland secretary: “A decent and responsible government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect - it is a matter of profound personal regret that I must leave government as I no longer believe those values are being upheld.”

Alex Chalk, quitting as solicitor general, wrote that government posts mean accepting “the duty for difficult or even unpopular policy decisions where that serves the broader national interest”. But, he added, “it cannot extend to defending the indefensible”.

Will Quince resigned as an education minister, having been asked to tour TV studios to defend the prime minister. He said he had “no choice” but to resign after it turned out he had been given “inaccurate” information.

Victoria Atkins resigned as a justice minister, telling Johnson “I can no longer pirouette around our fractured values” and “we can and must be better than this”.

Jo Churchill quit as a Defra minister, saying “recent events have shown that integrity, competence and judgment are all essential to the role of prime minister, while a jocular, self-serving approach is bound to have its limitations”.

Rachel Maclean, the safeguarding minister, said her job had been improving the low rate of prosecutions for sexual offences, which would “not be possible” if Johnson remained in office.

Helen Whately, then exchequer secretary to the Treasury, said: “I have argued that you should continue as prime minister many times in recent months, but there are only so many times you can apologise and move on. That point has been reached.”

George Freeman, then science minister, said: “Enough is enough. This can’t go on. The chaos in No.10, the breakdown of cabinet collective responsibility, the abandonment of the ministerial code, the defence of impropriety & defiance of parliament are all insults to the Conservatism I believe in and stand for.”

Guy Opperman, resigning as pensions minister, told Johnson: “Clearly that government simply cannot function with you in charge.”

Sajid Javid, who’s resignation as health secretary alongside Sunak’s departure as chancellor triggered Johnson’s downfall, said the British people “expect integrity from their government”.

Voters, Javid said, believed Johnson was neither competent nor “acting in the national interest”.

Despite all this, Johnson could be prime minister once again. Possibly as soon as Monday. One despairing MP told HuffPost UK: “It’s no longer the Conservative Party. It’s the Boris Johnson party. It’s a cult.”


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