Zahawi denies Tory MPs ‘conspired’ to keep Boris off the ballot

Boris Johnson: Zahawi denies the Tories 'conspired' against him

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The Chairman of the Conservative Party has denied Tory MPs plotted to keep Boris Johnson off the leadership ballot to ensure Rishi Sunak could enter Number Ten unchallenged. Following the resignation of Liz Truss after just weeks in office, many Conservative MPs had called for former prime minister Boris Johnson to return to Downing Street. Mr Johnson later confirmed he would not stand in the contest despite reportedly receiving 102 votes of support from his Tory colleagues. As Mr Sunak’s premiership begins, Nadhim Zahawi has spoken out against speculation that Tory MPs “conspired” to block Boris Johnson from a membership ballot.

Mr Zahawi told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “If the perception had been that a group of MPs had conspired to keep Boris Johnson off the ballot paper – the man who delivered that mandate for all of us, we all share that mandate – I think that would have been really negative with the country and with our members. 

“It was much better that it was his decision.

“He got the numbers, he got 102 endorsements by MPs but he reflected.”

Ahead of Mr Johnson’s announcement, Mr Zahawi had publicly confirmed he was “backing Boris” in his much-anticipated return to frontline politics.

Mr Zahawi continued: “I called him Boris 2.0, Boris 1.0 may have still gone forward and actually had to vote and probably created a much more difficult situation for us because of divisions between MPs and members.

“Boris 2.0 did the right thing. He put country and party ahead of self and he supported Rishi Sunak and I know he will continue to support Rishi Sunak. 

“I am very proud that we as a Conservative family came together because ultimately we are one team and supported Rishi Sunak.”

The Conservative Chairman had referred to Mr Johnson as “Boris 2.0” in an article he penned for The Telegraph supporting the leadership bid.

In a  twist for Nadhim Zahwai, the article was published just moments after Mr Johnson confirmed he would not be standing in the leadership contest, before being swiftly taken down.

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Mr Zahawai confirmed that he had spoken to Mr Johnson “a number of times” since he made the decision not to run for the Conservative leadership.

He stood by his colleague as he affirmed Mr Johnson remained a “great asset to the party” from the backbenches.

In his announcement, Boris Johnson declared: “I have reached out to both Rishi and Penny – because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest – we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this.

“Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds.”

He added that he still had “much to offer” the government but the present situation was “simply not the right time” for him to return as leader.

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Rishi Sunak paid tribute to the former prime minister in his Downing Street address shortly after meeting with King Charles.

The Prime Minister said he remained “grateful” to Boris Johnson for his “incredible achievements” during his period in office.

Mr Sunak was cautious to add that the mandate for leadership should not be considered “the sole property of any one individual” as many have claimed Mr Johnson, as leader of the Conservative Party during the last general election, was the only MP to hold a public mandate to enter Number Ten.

Mr Johnson has welcomed the appointment of his former chancellor with a tweet which read: “Congratulations to Rishi Sunak on this historic day, this is the moment for every Conservative to give our new Prime Minister their full and wholehearted support.”

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