Boris Johnson could have mounted a serious challenge to Rishi Sunak in the wake of Liz Truss’s resignation, Sir Graham Brady has said – providing the exact number of Conservative MPs who backed him in his bid. And the chairman of the powerful 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs has admitted he wishes Mr Sunak had faced a challenger rather than being elected unopposed.
Mr Johnson resigned as PM in the summer – but was tipped for a sensational comeback after Ms Truss quit within weeks.
Sir Graham told GB News’s Camilla Tominey today: “We verified that he had the numbers.
“His team asked us to do that and confirm that they had 110 parliamentary party members nominating him, so he could have gone forward – he chose not to.
“Now I’m afraid in any election, if you end up with one candidate, that person is duly elected, that is a democratic process as long as the arrangements for the election allow fair and free nomination of other people. We did.”
Sir Graham continued: “My view both as a long-standing Conservative MP and as chairman of the motion to interview committee, I want Conservative Party leaders, especially Prime Ministers to succeed in office.
“I don’t want to see these situations arise where people feel the need to step aside.
“Obviously, if everything is going well, they don’t.
“So, I would prefer that we hadn’t had those circumstances arise.”
Despite not launching a leadership challenge in the autumn, Mr Johnson is widely believed not to have given up hopes of a return to No10.
JUST IN: Boris on collision course with Sunak over Brexit bill
The 58-year-old MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip hit headlines this weekend after warning Mr Sunak dropping the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – which would empower the UK to unilaterally scrap parts of the controversial post-Brexit treaty – would be a “great mistake “.
Mr Johnson’s first intervention on Brexit since departing No 10 comes as his successor-but-one has engaged in frantic diplomacy to secure a UK-EU agreement on fixing issues with the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Speaking today, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt said Mr Johnson’s intervention would “remind the EU” of the Bill, which is seen by Brexiteers as a key bargaining chip with the bloc.
She told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “Boris is being Boris.
“But I wouldn’t say this is a completely unhelpful intervention.”
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Mr Sunak appeared to play down the prospect of an imminent agreement over the Protocol, the mechanism for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland which Unionist critics claim has resulted in a border down the Irish Sea.
He said: “There are still challenges to work through. We have not resolved all these issues.
“Well, there isn’t a deal that has been done, there is an understanding of what needs to be done.”