Boris Johnson will try to make comeback as UK leader, says former MP

Ex-development secretary likens departing British PM to Italy's long-serving Silvio Berlusconi

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson could attempt a comeback as prime minister, according to his former colleague Rory Stewart. AFP
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Boris Johnson could try to force his way back into office if things go sour for his successor, a former minister has predicted as the Tory leadership race reached its final week.

Rory Stewart, who ran against Mr Johnson for the Tory leadership in 2019, likened him to former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and ex-US president Donald Trump, who are both plotting comebacks.

Mr Johnson is entering his final days in office as the Conservative Party prepares to announce its new leader on September 5, who will take office as prime minister the following day.

Voting ends on Friday and polls show Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leading former chancellor Rishi Sunak by a wide margin.

There was little campaigning on Monday, a bank holiday, but Mr Sunak wrote to supporters urging them to make "one final push" to persuade Conservative members.

With the cost of living crunch looming large over the race, Mr Sunak promised that "as your prime minister, I will get our country through this energy crisis".

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Ms Truss is promising to fight the fire with tax cuts but there was criticism on Monday of the idea that she might slash VAT to ease the pain for consumers.

One Tory MP, Neil O'Brien, said cutting VAT would do little for frugal pensioners and working-class people since essential spending such as food is not covered by the sales tax in the first place.

The scale of the crisis, after regulators announced on Friday that energy bills were rising by 80 per cent, has already sparked doubts about whether the new leader will be equal to the challenge.

Alistair Darling, the chancellor during the 2008 financial crash, said the lesson was that government had to do "more than people expect" to keep the economy afloat.

Asked whether Mr Johnson might attempt a comeback if the new prime minister flops, Mr Stewart said the outgoing leader had an "extraordinary ego" and believed he bad been badly treated.

“He doesn’t see the reality, which is that he was a terrible prime minister and that he lost his job because of deep flaws of character," Mr Stewart told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“And yes, I fear we’re going to end up with a second Berlusconi or a second Trump trying to rock back in again.”

Mr Stewart also told The Guardian that Mr Johnson is going to be "hovering around, hoping for a populist return”.

One obstacle could be the Commons Privileges Committee inquiry into whether Mr Johnson lied to MPs over Downing Street lockdown parties, but some of his allies have already denounced the probe as "a witch hunt”.

Mr Stewart, a long-time critic of Mr Johnson, quit the Conservative Party in 2019 after losing the whip for voting to block a no-deal Brexit.

He quit the party the following month and immediately launched a bid for the London mayoralty as an independent candidate but pulled out of the race after the vote was delayed to 2021, saying it was too difficult to sustain a campaign extended by the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, it was announced that he had been appointed president of the GiveDirectly international aid charity, which seeks to help donors send money straight to the world’s poorest households

Updated: August 29, 2022, 1:56 PM