Tory MPs in dramatic plot to bring back Boris as only way to avert wipeout at Election
...and party rebels even consider ‘dream ticket’ with jungle star Farage
By GLEN OWEN and DAN HODGES
BORIS JOHNSON could return as Prime Minister under astonishing plans being hatched by Tory MPs – with a ‘dream ticket’ leadership tie-up with Nigel Farage even being considered.
The Mail on Sunday has spoken to multiple Conservative MPs who believe that bringing back the former Premier is the only way to save the party from an Election wipeout.
It comes as Rishi Sunak faces a crunch vote on Tuesday on his flagship Rwanda migrants plan, with whips using threats and blandishments to try to quell a revolt – allegedly even offering peerages to potential rebels if they toe the line.
This newspaper can reveal that Mr Sunak’s Tory enemies have drawn up what they crudely call an ‘Advent calendar of s**t’ to further destabilise the Prime Minister following his sacking of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary and the resignation of Robert Jenrick as Immigration Minister over attempts to salvage the Rwanda plan.
The MPs intend to rebel in Commons votes and make increasingly outspoken interventions, with No10 nervously braced for further Ministerial resignations. One plotter admitted the intention was to ‘crash’ the Sunak Government and install a leader who could close the gap with Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party.
The MPs are panicking about polling figures which show Tory support sinking, with many voters turning to the Reform Party, the successor to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Its fortunes have been boosted by Mr Farage’s successful run on ITV reality show I’m A Celebrity.
The Tory rebels argue that Mr Johnson is the only Conservative with the pulling power to neutralise Mr Farage’s impact, particularly in the Red Wall seats in the Midlands and the North which he took from Labour at the 2019 General Election. Although Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch has emerged as another leading contender among MPs.
No10, however, insists Mr Sunak
will see off the plotters and lead the Tories into the next Election.
Last night, a spokesman for Mr Johnson would not be drawn on his political ambitions, and denied the existence of any plans to team up with Mr Farage. He said: ‘Boris Johnson is currently writing a book and is supporting the Government.’
A source close to Mr Farage insisted that any pact between the two heavyweights would ‘soon end in tears’. However, it is understood that MPs have privately urged the pair to talk.
Mr Sunak faces a test of his authority on Tuesday when MPs will vote on the principle of whether to tighten the law to try to salvage his plan to dispatch Channel migrants to Rwanda. Mr Jenrick quit because he thought the legislation did not go far enough. However, MPs will not have the chance to debate and vote on potentially divisive amendments until the New Year, limiting their opportunities for rebellion. Ms Braverman denies scheming to bring down Mr Sunak, claiming that she hopes he will lead the party into the next Election.
Neither Mr Johnson nor Mr
Farage is currently in Parliament, but Boris’s supporters believe that if an MP quit a safe seat before the Election to make way for Mr Johnson, Tory high command would be unable to block it.
A leadership contest would then be triggered if at least 53 letters of no confidence in Mr Sunak were sent to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the backbench 1922 Committee.
Another suggestion is that a Johnson ally, such as former Home Secretary Priti Patel, could be installed as a caretaker Prime Minister, with Mr Johnson standing for a safe seat at the Election, then stepping back in to No10. If Reform remained a threat, a deal could be struck by giving Mr Farage, the party’s honorary president, and Richard Tice, its leader, places in the Lords and key Ministerial positions.
But Reform Party officials said their aim was to kill off the Conservatives. One told The Mail on Sunday: ‘When Nigel gets back [from the ITV reality show] he’s going to start dominating the agenda. Within about six to eight weeks we’ll be polling in the high teens, and the Tories will start to slip below 20 per cent.
‘At that point between five and ten MPs will realise the game’s up, and defect to us. Then it’s game over. We’re looking at the last majority Tory administration of our lifetime. We’re going to destroy them.’
Party donors are already starting to switch. The co-owners of Bristol Ports, who have donated more than £640,000 to the Tories since 2001, recently gave £100,000 to Reform.
Mr Farage has been able to reach millions of voters through the hit ITV programme, which concludes today. Yesterday, the Reform Party
‘Reform are out to kill us, so we have to buy Nigel Farage off’
‘It would re-energise the base and shake things up’
emailed subscribers begging them to go ‘against the establishment’ and vote for Farage to be crowned King of the Jungle. Mr Tice wrote: ‘Our man has been superb standing for Brexit in the face of Remainer campmates who have constantly challenged his views on air.’
One Tory MP said: ‘When Farage comes back he’s going to be all over the airwaves, and he’s going to have us in his sights.’
Another said: ‘Reform are going to kill us, so we have to buy Farage off. The plan is we get him into the Lords, give him some brief like we did with Cameron – maybe even Home Secretary – then go to the country with the dream team.
‘It may not be enough to win, but it would definitely re-energise our base, shake up the debate and give Starmer something to think about.’
Surprisingly, Mr Johnson’s supporters in the parliamentary party include MPs who helped to oust him from Downing Street last
year following a revolt over scandals including Partygate.
One Red Wall MP told the MoS: ‘I came out early to say he had to go. But I think we have to think outside the box now. Whatever you feel about him, one thing no one can question is his effectiveness as a campaigner. And we need that now, we’re staring at obliteration.’
Mr Johnson’s stock is perceived to have risen following his performance at the Covid Inquiry, which one supporter said showed he can be serious and ‘on top of the detail’.
Mr Johnson spent months preparing with his close aide Lord Kempsell for his appearance, during which he apologised for the ‘pain and the loss and the suffering’ that victims of Covid and their families went through.
However, one ex-Cabinet Minister warned Mr Johnson’s comeback could be thwarted by his old rival Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary. But they added: ‘That said, if Boris were still in the Commons, he would be back already. There would be a coronation. Just look at the polls. Boris is the best campaigner we have by a mile. If you want the prospect of votes at the next Election, Boris is your man.’
The MP added that replacing Mr Sunak with anyone else currently in the Commons would ‘make things worse rather than better’.
WHEN governments have been in office for many years, they are subject to all kinds of stresses. Ministers and MPs are tired and sometimes punch-drunk by the endless tension of legislation and by the unceasing public drama that surrounds their lives. Sometimes major events have made this strain much more intense. The Covid pandemic lies across the past few years like a deep shadow.
It was not as bad as an actual war, thank heaven, but it had many of the characteristics of such a crisis. Innocent people died, treasured traditions and freedoms were abandoned for the higher good, normal life was profoundly disrupted.
And while there were instances of praiseworthy courage, brilliant scientific achievement and dutiful hard work, there were also losses and tragedies.
As if this was not enough, the turmoil of Brexit tore apart many old certainties, and altered political alignments inside Parliament and outside it, probably for ever.
Add to that the Ukraine war, the energy crisis and the current turmoil in Gaza, and it is hardly surprising that the era since 2010 has raised up and destroyed no fewer than four Tory Prime Ministers.
Such periods are good for Opposition parties, such as Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour, who either do not have any particularly new ideas or perhaps just want to keep quiet about the ones they do have – in case the voters do not like them.
Millions simply grow tired of the old faces and voices of the incumbents, as they might grow tired of a TV soap opera whose plot seems never to change. They stop listening to what the Government says. And this increases the confusion among Government MPs, who begin to fear being sacked from their agreeable posts simply because of a mood change they can do nothing to influence.
Out of such conditions, all kinds of strange things are born. Governments try ever harder to get the attention of the voters who have turned away from them. MPs wonder if yet another change of face at the top will save their majorities after all. What all these people need is a good, restful Christmas break in which they can get some sleep and allow themselves to think. It is perfectly possible for political parties to retain office after long periods, if they keep their heads.
It remains a historical fact that the Tories, after 13 long years in government in 1964, came within four seats of staying in power for another five years, and might easily have done so if they had tried a little harder.
It is also a historical fact that a Tory victory in that year would have saved this country from some of the worst governance it ever underwent. Some may also remember 1992, when John Major’s government had been written off by many experts, but beat Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party with a decisive majority.
It is the chasing about after eye-catching headlines, and the fantasy that a change of leadership will solve the problem, that will convince Tory voters to stay at home, or to desert to some rebel faction that is likely to split the Conservative vote and hand Downing Street to Sir Keir Starmer.
Our advice to Rishi Sunak and his MPs is simple. Be more conservative. Stay calm. Keep your disagreements private. Warn that Sir Keir’s Labour Party is far more Left-wing – on policy, spending and taxation – than it wants voters to believe. And keep doing and saying all these things until long after you are sick of them, because that is when the voters will begin to notice what you are saying.
The Tories may be a little sated with the sweets of government, but if they propel themselves into Opposition, they will quickly tire of the sour taste of it.
And millions of us will not enjoy the experience very much either.
dmg media (UK)