Tory MPs vow to quit if Boris Johnson becomes leader
As PM’s authority wanes, some MPs say they will not stay in party run by ‘Brexit ultras’
Former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson departs the cabinet office in London on Tuesday. Photograph: EPA
Conservative MPs are orchestrating against a potential leadership campaign by Boris Johnson, with several talking of resigning the whip if he were to become party leader.
With Tories convinced that Theresa May’s days in No 10 are numbered, MPs are feverishly discussing who will seek to replace her, how organised the teams are and whether a general election would be necessary.
Mr Johnson is the current favourite of Brexit-backing Tory activists, who will pick the leader out of a final two candidates. However, the former London mayor would first have to clear the hurdle of convincing Conservative MPs to put him on the final list of two.
One minister said she would leave the party if Mr Johnson and his supporters, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, took over the Conservatives.
Another minister said he knew of five or six Conservatives who were openly saying they were so opposed to a Johnson premiership that they could not stay in the party run by him and a group of “Brexit ultras”.
‘People will leave’
Anna Soubry, the former Tory minister who quit to join the new Independent Group, said she believed “people will leave” if Mr Johnson were to become prime minister.
Johnson could face competition from Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, David Davis, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom among the Brexiters when there is a leadership contest, which MPs believe Mrs May could be forced to announce soon after passing her withdrawal bill or if it fails comprehensively for a third or fourth time. Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Liz Truss are among the former remainers who are readying their campaigns.
Backers of Mr Johnson believe MPs could swing behind him if they believe an election is not far away, because he is already a household name to put up against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
“Who outside Westminster has heard of Dominic Raab?” asked one Brexit supporting MP who wants Mr Johnson to deliver Mrs May a message that she must stand down soon regardless of whether her Brexit deal passes.
“Boris still has the star quality that we would need with the electorate to beat Corbyn if there is going to be an election soon. And there is going to be an election in 2019 if you look at parliament.”
But anti-Johnson feeling among MPs appears to have risen in recent weeks, especially among female Tories incensed by his comments suggesting money on historic child sex abuse cases was being “spaffed up the wall” and after he said he would hold out against voting for Mrs May’s deal. Victoria Atkins, a Home Office minister, publicly confronted him in parliament to give him a dressing down, according to the Spectator.
Mr Johnson and Mr Raab, who are resisting backing the deal for a third time along with at least 20 others, are both competing for the support of leave-voting MPs but risk infuriating those who believe the time has come to compromise.
Most Tory MPs now back Mrs May’s withdrawal deal and a substantial chunk of former remain supporters are hardening against the idea of a Johnson premiership.
Among MPs, especially those on the government payroll, the frontrunner appears to be Mr Hunt, who is being helped in his campaign by Mel Stride, a Treasury minister and former whip. One MP described how Hunt had been having one-on-one meetings over wine with backbench colleagues. His campaign is said by MPs to be by far the most sophisticated. – Guardian