(FILES) Britain's outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson
London (AFP) - Even after failing to pull off a sensational return to Downing Street within weeks of being forced out, Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson still made plain he is eyeing a political comeback.
“I believe I have much to offer,” the 58-year-old said in a surprise announcement that he would not seek the leadership again – for now.
The decision came days after he briefed allies that he was “up for it” and rushed home from a luxury Caribbean holiday to plot a bid – despite still being dogged by the “Partygate” scandal that played an outsized role in his summer downfall.
“I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024”, Johnson boasted in the Sunday evening statement, amid suspicions he could not rally enough support from Tory MPs to advance in the leadership contest.
He and allies have insisted he secured the backing of 102 MPs in his deeply polarised party.
Johnson said he was withdrawing after failing to strike a deal with the rival contenders – former finance minister Rishi Sunak and cabinet Penny Mordaunt – which he had sought “in the national interest”.
Neither rival agreed to stand down in his favour, The Daily Telegraph reported, in a sign of his diminished political capital.
It was perhaps unsurprising: Sunak, who went on to win the leadership Monday, had helped trigger his summer ousting, while Johnson had cast Mordaunt out of his new government in 2019.
- ‘Hasta la vista’ -
Earlier Sunday, it had been a different story.
Johnson, still jetlagged from his overnight flight from the Dominican Republic but dressed in a suit and tie, was reportedly brimming with confidence.
He held a video call presenting his “vision for the future” to around 50 Tories backing him, pledging to “run things very differently… with greater organisation in Number 10”.
“Boris has learned lessons,” from his first period in office, tweeted MP James Duddridge, one of his most loyal supporters, insisting Johnson will focus “on the needs of the country”.
(FILES) Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson
However some 12 hours later, the ex-premier was conceding “this is simply not the right time” for his political resurrection.
“You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament,” Johnson added, effectively admitting he could not currently win over enough of his own MPs for a second act in Downing Street.
Johnson had hinted when resigning in July that he would likely attempt a second stint in office – though even his allies would have thought it unlikely so soon.
“Hasta la vista baby” he said at his last Prime Minister’s Questions session. “Mission largely accomplished, for now”, he added.
Despite still serving as a Conservative MP, in the meantime he has also embarked as expected on the lucrative speaking circuit, setting up a company called “The office of Boris Johnson Limited”.
Earlier this month he delivered a 30-minute speech at an insurers’ forum in Colorado Springs in the United States, for a reported fee of $150,000 (£133,000).
- ‘Box office’ -
But for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, 58, credited for his communication skills and aplomb, Truss’s departure from office after just 44 days was not a moment to be missed.
He appeared undeterred by various polls showing only a minority of voters favoured his return.
Meanwhile, the divisive MP still faces a parliamentary investigation over whether he lied in the House of Commons over the “Partygate” controversy, involving Covid lockdown-breaching parties that severely tarnished his tumultuous three years in power.
Televised sessions to scrutinise the allegations are set to start in the coming weeks. If they establish that he lied, Johnson could be suspended from parliament.
But like his hero Winston Churchill, who had two tenures in Downing Street, Johnson will still be hoping to eventually make a triumphant return to the pinnacle of British politics.
“He might not have got top billing on this occasion but, like him or loathe him, Johnson is box office,” Daily Telegraph columnist Camilla Tominey wrote Monday.
“And for as many people who refuse to sign up for his next performance, there will always be plenty more queuing around the block for a front row seat.”