Nick Abbot 10pm - 1am
Could the comeback be on? Now six Cabinet ministers back Boris for Downing Street return as he flies home on Saturday
21 October 2022, 19:36 | Updated: 21 October 2022, 23:21
The number of Cabinet ministers backing Boris Johnson to return as Prime Minister rose to six on Friday night, as an ally said the former PM is "up for" running in the Conservative leadership race and is flying home.
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Defence secretary Ben Wallace, business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, levelling up chief Simon Clarke, transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and Cop26 president Alok Sharma have all lined up behind the former PM, who is battling against former chancellor Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt to replace Liz Truss.
Mr Heaton-Harris wrote in the Daily Mail that "there is no politician more able to rise up to whatever challenge he faces."
He went on: "I would be the first to admit that my party has been through a turbulent time recently, but if he gets the call, I know Boris will finish the job he started and deliver on the promises he made to you in 2019.
"At a time of economic and international uncertainty, we need a leader with a track record of delivering for the British people.
"A leader who has the mandate of not only the Conservative Party membership, but also the country."
Mr Johnson, who resigned in July amid the 'partygate' scandal, is now plotting an extraordinary comeback to the top job in British politics, according to key ally Sir James Duddridge.
Sir James, who was one of Mr Johnson's parliamentary private secretaries at No 10, told the PA news agency: "I've been in contact with the boss via WhatsApp.
"He's going to fly back. He said, 'I'm flying back, Dudders. We are going to do this. I'm up for it'."
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The MP for Rochford and Southend East said he was confident Mr Johnson would get the 100 nominations from Tory colleagues to progress to the next stage of the contest "quite quickly".
Sir James said Mr Johnson would fly back to the UK from his Caribbean holiday on Saturday and begin making his case to his fellow Conservative MPs.
His argument will be that he is "the only person that's got a mandate" from the 2019 general election and that he can "bring the party together", Sir James added.
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Mr Johnson has "learned and reflected" in his spell out of office, and knows he needs a No 10 operation that is "slicker" and has "command of the details", according to the ally.
Sir James said Mr Johnson knows he needs a "government of all talents" and would "welcome back with open arms" even those who "said despicable things about him".
Mr Johnson is touted by some in his party as a "unity" candidate who can bring the Conservatives back together after a bitter and divided spell under his successor Liz Truss, who announced her resignation on Thursday after only 44 days.
His defenders claim that the former PM is popular in parts of the UK that the Conservative Party often finds hard to win over.
They point to the spectacular success in the 2019 general election - which saw swathes of the 'red wall', traditional Labour heartlands in the North and Midlands, swing to the Conservatives that year.
But the new poll suggests that the 'partygate' scandal may have had a lasting impact among voters. It emerged earlier this year that several parties had been held in Downing Street and other government buildings, while draconian Covid-19 lockdown rules were still in place.
Many people have complained about the sacrifices they made, such as not being able to visit sick loved ones or attend funerals, at the same time as the 'partygate' events were taking place.
Mr Johnson still faces a Commons inquiry later this year over claims he misled parliament about the 'partygate' affair.
Mr Johnson appears to be trailing Rishi Sunak, his former chancellor, with MP backers, but is ahead of Penny Mordaunt, the other frontrunner.
A recent poll from Opinium Research showed that a showdown between Mr Sunak and the former PM would see Mr Sunak come out on top.
An overnight poll showed that in a Rishi Sunak vs Boris Johnson run-off, the public would back Sunak 44% to 31%. Mr Sunak would be the public's favourite in two of three 'final two' scenarios, with him also winning 45% of support over 23% for Mordaunt.
And another poll suggests that more than half of British people do not want Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister again.
Some 52% of people surveyed by YouGov on Friday said that they would be "unhappy" to see Mr Johnson, who resigned after the 'partygate' scandal only three months ago, return to Downing Street.
Out of the 3,429 people the pollsters asked, 43% said they would be "very unhappy" and 9% said they would be "fairly unhappy" with Mr Johnson in the top job. But of the Conservative voters polled, some 21% said they would be unhappy.
It has been reported that Mr Johnson has privately urged Mr Sunak, whose departure from government precipitated his downfall, to join forces.
The ex-PM has told MPs only he can win the next election for the Conservatives after Liz Truss's dreadful few weeks in No10 saw the Tories crash in the polls.
Stanley Johnson, his father, said he is "on a plane, as I understand it". Candidates have to have 100 MPs on Monday to progress to the members' vote. The overall winner will be announced next Friday.