Boris on brink: 'Dark horse' Penny Mordaunt being eyed up as next Prime Minister

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Boris Johnson grilled on ‘ridiculous’ defence of May party

The outsider who has held several Cabinet positions including Secretary of State for Defence is well-liked among so-called Red Wall MPs elected at the 2019 general election, many of whom are anxious about losing their recently-acquired seats over the ongoing Downing Street parties scandal. An ally of Mordaunt said: “She is focused on doing her job, and drawing attention to matters of grave concern, in particular the raft of challenges facing NATO.”

The news comes as the Prime Minister is in the midst of a scandal that could potentially see him resign following events attended by the PM at Downing Street.

Held last year during the height of the lockdown, Mr Johnson delivered a whole-hearted apology from the dispatch box, which was quickly mocked and rejected by opposition parties, the public, and several of his own party members.

An independent enquiry into the affair is being conducted by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Many speculate the outcome of the report will essentially decide the fate of the PM.

Boris Johnson and Penny Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt is seen as a “dark horse” in the race to become the next PM (Image: Getty)

Boris Johnson

The Prime Minister is under intense pressure to resign (Image: Getty)

However, with his leadership in a highly-precarious state, and with the Conservatives facing the prospect of significant losses at May’s local elections, the conversation among Tory MPs has turned to who should replace Johnson if he is ousted, or decides to walk away, before the next general election, which must take place by 2024.

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, are widely seen as the early frontrunners to win the next Conservative leadership contest.

However, multiple Tory MPs elected at the last election have expressed their support for Ms Mordaunt as a dark horse candidate to be the party’s next leader.

Tory MP’s argue that she is a safe pair of hands who could bring together the different wings of the party.

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Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings has been highly critical of the PM since leaving his role (Image: Getty)

Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson

Rishi Sunak is tipped as a potential Prime Minister (Image: Getty)

One Conservative Party source told PoliticsHome: “Boris is inherently divisive to one side of the party, as was May.”

The source added: “They believe she’s someone who can be a more unifying figure like David Cameron was.”

A senior Conservative MP and ex-minister said that while Ms Mordaunt’s vocal backing for Brexit meant she could appeal to the staunchly pro-Leave wing of the party, she could also attract the support of self-styled moderates in the One Nation and Tory Reform Group caucuses.

Ms Mordaunt was also the third most popular choice among Tory party members when they were asked last month who should succeed Mr Johnson, according to a regular survey carried out by ConservativeHome.

Liz Truss was the most popular choice, while Mr Sunak was second.

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Confidence votes

The confidence vote process (Image: Daily Express)

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, is also expected to put his name forward again when the next leadership contest takes place.

Mr Gove has been working closely with the influential Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs (NRG) on the Government’s levelling up policy and is set to host them on the eve of the publication of the levelling up white paper, which is currently expected later this month.

Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary who came second to Mr Johnson in the party’s last leadership contest, is thought to be considering another leadership bid, as is Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, according to The Sunday Times.

Despite the crisis facing the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers continue to publicly defend Johnson and reject talk of a change in leadership.

Liz Truss

Liz Truss is also in the running for the top job (Image: Getty)

Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, on Monday morning insisted that the Prime Minister’s job was “safe” despite the public backlash and six Tory MPs calling on him to stand down.

Also backing Mr Johnson was MP Michael Fabricant who was astounded by the anti-Boris sentiment that was displayed by the British public following the apology delivered by the PM.

The results of the Sue Gray report are yet to be completed, but some reports it could be published at the end of the week beginning January 17, or the following week.

The official document published in December which lays out what she can look at and what action can be taken said it needs to be completed “swiftly”.



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