Liz Truss has resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after just 44 full days in office - and already, various Tory MPs have been linked as possible successors for the role.
Incredibly, one of the current frontrunners for the leadership is Boris Johnson. The Uxbridge and Ruislip MP resigned from office just over three months ago, and even though he made a fair few allusions to a possible return, even he surely couldn’t have predicted it would be so soon.
Some MPs have already announced their support for Johnson. Brendan Clarke-Smith said the former PM is the “only person” that has “a mandate from people in the last general election” and a “mandate from party members.” Meanwhile, government minister Sir James Duddridge tweeted his support using the hashtag #bringbackboris.
But not everyone is so keen for such a grand return. Deputy Lib Dem leader Daisy Cooper said Johnson should “never be allowed near Downing Street again” considering he was “forced to resign in disgrace after countless lies, scandals and failures.” Tory MP Sir Roger Gale also agreed, commenting: “We need to remember that Mr Johnson is still under investigation by the Privileges Committee for potentially misleading the House. Until that investigation is complete and he is found guilty or cleared, there should be no possibility of him returning to government.”
So, why are people backing Johnson - and why are others so against his return? But more importantly, why did he resign in the first place?
Why did Boris Johnson resign as Prime Minister?
Although Johnson officially resigned, he - like Liz Truss - was essentially driven out of Number 10 when his government turned against him. However there were a number of scandals which brought down his premiership, which made it impossible for him to continue.
In October 2021, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found the veteran Owen Paterson had lobbied governmental departments on behalf of two companies he was a paid more than £110,000-a-year to work as a consultant for. The commissioner said Paterson had "repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies ... and that this has brought the house into disrepute". It was recommended he was suspended from the Commons for 30 days.
Johnson’s government backed an amendment to delay Paterson’s suspension and set up a new committee for disciplining MPs, which critics said was changing the rules to protect a high-profile Brexiteer. The Labour party said this was giving a “green light to corruption”, and eventually Johnson’ government relented leaving Paterson to resign as an MP. But the damage was done, with a media focus on apparent “Tory sleaze” not seen since the 1990s.
Johnson spent much of April 2022 mired in further sleaze allegations over the question of who paid for an £88,000 refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, overseen by his now wife Carrie, which included garish gold wallpaper.
While the prime minister is permitted £30,000 per year from the taxpayer to pay for decorations, the exorbitant cost meant he asked Tory donor Lord Brownlow to cover the outstanding £58,000 redecoration bill after it was originally met by Conservative Party HQ. After an investigation into the affair, Johnson’s own ethics adviser said he acted “unwisely” but cleared him of being deliberately misleading, when he failed to declare key Whatsapp messages between himself and Lord Brownlow.
Johnson’s government and the Conservative Party became mired in an ongoing scandal about breaches of Covid restrictions at Downing Street and in Whitehall. It was the saga that arguably started the beginning of the end for the PM, and caused Labour’s polling to surge above the Tories.
In November 2021, the Daily Mirror reported that Downing Street staff had gathered together during the 2020 Christmas season, when the UK was under strict lockdown rules. Johnson and No10 denied a party had taken place, however a week later, a video emerged of a mock press conference in which joking comments about a party having taken place were made.
This led to the Metropolitan Police investigating 12 different gatherings on eight different days, which allegedly breached Covid rules, while civil servant Sue Gray’s report gave details of 16 events, saying: “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places, and clearly what happened fell well short of this.” The Prime Minister attended eight gatherings, according to the Gray report.
In April 2022, Johnson was fined £50 for attending one of the Downing Street parties that took place during the coronavirus lockdown. He apologised, but insisted he was not aware he was breaking any rules. This prompted months of debate over how responsible Johnson was - was he aware of all the parties? Did he turn a blind eye while instructing the rest of the country to live under strict lockdown measures? The former PM is still being investigated for this, and could be stripped of being an MP if he’s found guilty of misleading Parliament.
If that wasn’t enough to deal with, then came the Chris Pincher scandal. The former deputy chief whip was accused of sexual assault, after The Sun reported he allegedly groped two fellow patrons at the Carlton Club in London’s Piccadilly on 29 June.
Pincher resigned on 30 June, which is when questions were raised over Johnson’s decision to appoint him in February in the first place. No 10 initially denied the Prime Minister knew about previous allegations against the MP. However Lord McDonald - a former top civil servant in the Foreign Office - accused No 10 of not telling the truth and stated that Johnson was briefed in person about a formal complaint into Pincher's when he was a Foreign Office minister.
MPs then started to accuse Johnson of mishandling the scandal, and all of a sudden, the resignation letters started flying in. Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak - the Health Secretary and Chancellor at the time - were the first to go, but many soon followed. In fact, 62 of the 179 government ministers vacated their posts.
Johnson was then ultimately forced to resign on 7 July, after holding on to power for as long as he could, despite telling friends just the day before that he “was not going anywhere.” He was similar to Truss in that respect, who also insisted she would be Prime Minister at Christmas just days before her resignation.
Could he return?
But despite the scandal surrounding his departure, Johnson is now one of the big names being talked about as a possible successor to Truss.
Although he is currently under investigation for misleading Parliament, there are technically no rules that suggest he could not be Prime Minister again, even so soon after his first stint.
It means that while his career was marred by controversy, Johnson remains a genuine electoral proposition for the Conservative Party - and if the calls for a general election fail, we could see the political celebrity back in Number 10 very soon.