Boris Johnson urges wavering Tory voters to stick with the party

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Boris Johnson has made a last-minute intervention in the Conservative election campaign, urging wavering Tory voters to stick with the party rather than allow Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to enjoy a “sledgehammer majority”.

The former prime minister’s plea to Conservative supporters also highlighted how the Tory focus is beginning to switch to the fight for the party’s soul after an expected defeat on Thursday.

Johnson, forced out of office in 2022, was asked by Rishi Sunak last week to help lift the Tories’ floundering campaign and agreed to give a short speech at a rally in central London on Tuesday night.

The two men held five minutes of “amicable” talks backstage before the event, according to Johnson’s allies, but the re-emergence of the former premier suggests he will now play a key role in what happens next to the party.

“I want to be clear that I was glad when the PM asked me for help and I could not say no,” Johnson said.

“We cannot just sit back as a Labour government prepares to use a sledgehammer majority to destroy so much of what we achieved.”

Johnson also launched a strong attack on Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, in a sign the former prime minister will argue against the Tories embracing the populist leader after an election defeat.

Referring to Farage’s claim that the west had “provoked” Russian President Vladimir Putin into his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Johnson said other parties were “full of Kremlin crawlers who actually make excuses for Putin’s 2022 invasion”.

“They say Putin’s a good operator, runs a tight ship; and if that’s what they mean by a man who shoots journalists and poisons his opponents and murders thousands of innocent Ukrainian civilians I say shame on them.

“Don’t let the Putinistas deliver the Corbynistas. Don’t let Putin’s pet parrots give the whole country psittacosis.”

Johnson’s allies said the former premier is not expected to endorse any particular candidate for the Tory leadership after the Conservatives’ expected defeat on Thursday, and the likely resignation of Sunak.

But one ally said: “He will seek to exert influence over the debate. Genuinely, in the last 72 hours he has become very irate about the threat of a Labour supermajority. He will have an interest in what happens next for the Tory fightback.”

Johnson, who retains a strong appeal among many Tory voters, has been abroad for much of the election campaign and has confined himself mainly to helping specific Conservative parliamentary candidates with video messages and mail shots.

The fact that Sunak asked him to help out, albeit at the last minute and with only a brief speech, is a sign the current prime minister needs all the help he can get, with opinion polls that suggest Starmer is heading for a landslide victory on Thursday.

The choreography of Tuesday’s event was overseen by Isaac Levido, the Tory campaign chief, and Johnson’s ally Lord Ross Kempsell.

Johnson conspicuously failed to praise Sunak in his speech.

Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said: “Rishi Sunak has reached a desperate new low, turning to a man who discredited the office of prime minister and lied to the country time after time.”

Suella Braverman: ‘It’s over and we need to prepare for the reality and frustration of opposition’ © Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Meanwhile, Suella Braverman, former home secretary and a potential rightwing candidate for the Tory leadership, looked beyond polling day to the battle to control the party’s direction in defeat.

“One needs to read the writing on the wall: it’s over and we need to prepare for the reality and frustration of opposition,” Braverman wrote in the Daily Telegraph, calling for the party to tack to the right.

“We failed to cut immigration or tax, or deal with the net zero and woke policies we have presided over for 14 years. If our best defence is whining that the left took over the institutions, who negligently let them?”

Braverman was much warmer in her comments about Farage than Johnson. “Tory cabinet ministers attacking Farage is like a patient berating the doctor for the illness,” she wrote.

“It’s an illness that could have been easily prevented by the patient taking heed of the warnings years ago, admitting to the problem and adopting some healthy habits.”


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