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Boris Johnson’s hopes of making a sensational return to No.10 are likely to be scuppered by the ongoing Parliamentary inquiry against him, Ann Widdecombe has warned. And speaking hours after the resignation of Prime Minister, the former Tory minister branded the situation a “circus” – and blasted the party’s MP for ignoring the wishes of rank-and-file members.
I don’t think any of us have ever seen anything quite like this
Ms Widdecombe, who held several roles in the Government of former Prime Minister Sir John Major, including Employment Minister and Prisons Minister, admitted her bewilderment after yet another an extraordinary day at Westminster.
Referring to the former Chancellor, rapidly installed as the bookmakers’ favourite, she told Express.co.uk: “This is unprecedented – it’s a complete circus.
“I don’t think any of us have ever seen anything quite like this.
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“I just don’t know what happens now. I imagine what happens is Rishi Sunak, but I don’t know.”
Mr Johnson, who only stood down in the summer, is widely believed to be planning to throw his hat in the ring.
However, the former Tory MP for Maidstone in Kent, highlighted a massive pitfall in the shape of the Commons Privileges Committee investigation into claims Mr Johnson misled Parliament over ‘partygate’ allegations.
Citing the committee chairwoman and former Labour Home Secretary, she said: “The difficulty with Boris is the inquiry, the Harriet Harman inquiry.
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Liz Truss beat Rishi Sunak on September 5
“If that were not there, I would say that would probably be the outcome.”
Other names being bandied about include Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace – but Ms Widdecombe dismissed their prospects, saying: “If it’s anybody else it will be Rishi.”
Asked where the turmoil left the party, she added: “It’s impossible to say it really is I mean.
“The party is uncomfortable, the parliamentary party is at any rate, and this has all been about getting the result that they couldn’t get with the membership.
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“They wanted to get rid of Boris, they wanted to get rid of Liz Truss, because they want a left-of-central Remainer approach.
“And until they got that they wouldn’t never gonna be satisfied.”
Such an approach ignored the wishes of the party’s roughly 200,000 members, who convincingly elected Ms Truss on September 5, Ms Widdecombe pointed out.
She stressed: “They don’t appear to be considering that.”
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Ms Widdecombe, who was an MP for 23 years, admitted she had never seen behaviour like that witnessed in the Commons last night, with Speaker Lindsay Hoyle launching a bullying inquiry into reports Tory MPs were physically manhandled to back the Government in last night’s crunch vote on fracking.
Looking ahead, she said: “I suspect we will lose the next election now whatever.
“They won’t go for an election now but I suspect its they wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t do that.
“But I suspect it’s irrecoverable, I could be wrong.”
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In an attempt to fast-track the process of electing a new leader – and potentially eliminate the need for a vote among members – candidates will need the support of 100 of the 357 Tory MPs in Parliament to make it onto the ballot paper.
Cabinet Office minister Brendan Clarke-Smith said: “We need somebody who can turn the tide and avert the disaster of a Labour government. We need Boris Johnson.”
However, in a stark illustrating of how divisive the former London Mayor still is, Tory veteran Sir Roger Gale likewise referenced the ongoing probe.
He said: “Until that investigation is complete and he is found guilty or cleared, there should be no possibility of him returning to Government.”