Kemi Badenoch backs Rishi Sunak to be the next PM

Kemi Badenoch threw her weight behind the ex-chancellor, insisting now is not the time for 'nostalgia for the cavalier elan of 2019'

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Rishi Sunak has gained a valuable ally in his expected bid for No 10 as Boris Johnson backers were challenged over claims that he has reached the number required to secure a spot on the Tory ballot paper.

In a blow to Mr Johnson’s campaign should he seek a second stint in Downing Street, International Trade Secretary and former leadership contender Kemi Badenoch threw her weight behind the ex-chancellor, insisting now is not the time for “nostalgia for the cavalier elan of 2019”.

She admitted she had “on occasion” been a member of “the Boris Johnson fan club”, but she said the Tories are not “organising a popularity contest”, and stressed the party is “not a vehicle for any one individual’s personal ambitions”.

Mr Johnson has returned to the UK to plot a second run for the top job in a move that has divided opinion among Conservative MPs, including his former allies.

He arrived at Gatwick Airport on Saturday morning with his family after breaking off from a holiday in the Dominican Republic after Liz Truss’s dramatic resignation on Thursday.

He was rumoured to be planning talks with Mr Sunak on Saturday – possibly face to face – but reports suggested there had been a delay.

Kemi Badenoch admitted to being a 'member of the Boris Johnson fan club on occasion'
Kemi Badenoch admitted to being a 'member of the Boris Johnson fan club on occasion'

The BBC later said a meeting had taken place, but this has not been corroborated to the PA news agency by either camp.

Meanwhile, an ally of former home secretary Suella Braverman told PA that she had been personally “heavily courted” by both Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak and is likely to decide who to back for the Tory leadership on Sunday.

Sir James Duddridge, a Johnson ally, claimed the ex-Prime Minister had the backing of the 100 MPs required to make it on to Monday’s ballot.

Former minister Karl McCartney tweeted: “Very pleased (along with so many of my constituents who came over to chat to me earlier today all over the city) that @BorisJohnson has more than 100 backers/nominations, and therefore could be on the ballot on Monday.”

But Sunak supporter Richard Holden cast doubt on this suggestion, arguing that the 100 public declarations had not been announced “because they don’t exist”.

Sir Robert Syms, another Sunak backer, wrote on Twitter: “If Boris has 100 in the bag why is his campaign putting out pics of him begging for votes?”

Despite being the only candidate to declare so far, Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt is lagging behind on public support from MPs, with just 21 to Mr Johnson’s 44 and Mr Sunak’s 113, according to a PA tally.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are reported to have held a 'secret summit'.
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are reported to have held a 'secret summit'.

Setting out her plan to “unite the party and the country” in the Express, she warned the Tories had “let ourselves become distracted by internal disputes”.

Ms Mordaunt used her pitch to stress the need to “make Brexit work”, “focus on the potential of all our citizens” and “defend our Union and its territorial integrity”, pledging her support for reforming the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.

She insisted she is not seeking the top job for an “easy ride”, and vowed to build a government which “draws from all our best talent”.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Ms Badenoch said her party must remind people that “Conservatives care about the country, not ourselves”.

The International Trade Secretary suggested Mr Sunak would bring a “disciplined approach” to Government, citing his “fiscal conservativism” and stressing that “right now, being able to say no is what we need”.

She said everyone in the party will need to make “sacrifices” to prove to people the Tories can “unite”.

For her, this means refraining from a second leadership bid, she said, while some will have to forsake a job in government under their preferred candidate “so that others can be brought into the tent”.