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Johnson at Gatwick Airport in London, after traveling on a flight from the Caribbean
Johnson served as prime minster from July 2019 to September 2022Image: Gareth Fuller/AP/picture alliance
PoliticsUnited Kingdom

Johnson arrives back in UK amid leadership race

October 22, 2022

Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has landed in Britain after cutting short a vacation in the Caribbean. He is expected to launch a comeback campaign to succeed his successor, Liz Truss.


Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Britain on Saturday as the contest heated up to replace his short-lived successor, Liz Truss

Johnson ended a vacation early to fly back from the Dominican Republic, with speculation rife that he was preparing a new leadership bid.

Neither Johnson nor Sunak, bookmakers favorites, have declared yet

Both the supposed frontrunners in the race, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, have yet to formally announce their candidacies, even as their allies furiously rush to declare support and canvass for more. 

Allies of Johnson, who resigned as prime minister in July after a string of political and personal scandals, say he is "up for it." 

Johnson's allies also claimed that he had secured the votes of 100 Conservative Members of Parliament needed to qualify for the contest. However, this elicited doubt in some quarters of the party, with MP Robert Syms asking: "If Boris has 100 in the bag why is his Campaign putting out pics of him begging for votes?"

British media unanimously reported, meanwhile, that Sunak — also maintaining total radio silence in public — had passed the 100-MP threshold. 

Conservative Kemi Badenoch, from the right flank of the party and considered a possible candidate to run again as she had unsuccessfully in the summer, published her support for Sunak in newspaper The Times which prides itself on close connections to the party. 

She became the latest in a series of former allies of Johnson, including his Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost, to come out in support of Sunak and to say a return from Johnson, barely two months after he left after a string of scandals and revolt in his own Cabinet, would go down disastrously with the electorate.

Former Conservative Party leader William Hague, not typically considered a natural ally of Johnson, said his return would send the party into a "death spiral."

Sunak and Johnson meet in person, months after political divorce 

The Sunday Times, the BBC and others reported late on Saturday that Sunak and Johnson had met privately for talks on what might come next. 

"Not sure if any conclusions, or if anything to come out of it tonight...," the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg wrote on Twitter. Speculation had been rife that they might be looking for some kind of accord between themselves. 

One prominent Conservative, Defense Minister Ben Wallace, pointedly said on Saturday that he would focus on who could bring "unity" when deciding which candidate to support, having previously said on Friday that he was undecided but "leaning towards" Johnson. 

Sunak was Johnson's finance minister, but became the highest profile Cabinet member to resign on July 5, saying in his resignation letter, "the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously," and "it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different." 

The coordinated resignations of Sunak and then-Health Secretary Sajid Javid — submitted within minutes of each other — were deemed as the tipping point that triggered a further flood of ministerial resignations and made Johnson's position untenable.

Johnson was able to exact revenge of a sort in the previous leadership contest, throwing his support behind Liz Truss, despite her low-tax, small-state economic principles diverging markedly from Johnson's.

Johnson is a divisive character who came to personify Brexit, Britain's exit from the European Union, and who was embroiled in frequent ethics scandals. According to reports, he was booed by some of the passengers who were on the plane to London.

Johnson is currently under investigation by the UK Parliament's Privileges Committee about whether he deliberately lied to the House of Commons about lockdown-breaking parties. If ministers, or the prime minister, are found to have misled parliament deliberately, they are expected to resign.

Penny Mordaunt still the only official contender, but chances deemed slim

Cabinet member Penny Mordaunt became the first Conservative lawmaker to formally announce her candidacy on Friday. Mordaunt just missed out on becoming one of the final two candidates to be voted upon by the party's membership after Johnson announced that he would quit.

There are currently 357 Conservative Members of Parliament, meaning that a maximum of three candidates would be able to meet the 100-vote requirement.

But MPs are not obliged to support anybody, and so it's equally conceivable that only two, or even just one candidate emerges. 

Why is the contest taking place?

The Conservative Party is entering another leadership race after Prime Minister Liz Truss on Thursday announced her resignation after just 44 days in office. 

During that tempestuous time, widespread criticism of her tax-cutting "mini-budget" led to severe impacts on the prices of government debt and the value of the pound. 

She had to sack her close friend and finance minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, and bring in a senior Conservative with a very different ideological vision to her own, Jeremy Hunt, to undo almost all of her fiscal policy plans. 

Thereafter, a series of resignations within her Cabinet — albeit far fewer than Johnson had tried to ride out a few months prior — led to her announcing that she would stand down. 

The opposition center-left Labour Party is demanding a general election, saying that the ruling Conservatives should not be able to foist another prime minister on the UK from within its own ranks. The country's prime minister is always decided by the party able to command a majority in parliament, rather than directly by the public.  

A general election must take place no later than January 2025, but if the Conservatives are able to establish a functioning government, they are not obliged to call one sooner. 

msh, rc/wd (AFP, Reuters)

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