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The Prime Minister last week described reports he would go early as “absolute nonsense”.
The denial followed Sir Henry Wakefield, the father-in-law to Mr Johnson’s chief of staff Dominic Cummings, reportedly telling a friend on a walk that the Prime Minister was struggling to recover from coronavirus and would be gone in six months.
But Tory MPs are now questioning whether the Prime Minister “has the stomach to continue” and are concerned about the number of U-turns performed by the government during the coronavirus pandemic.
The A-levels U-turn to cancel downgraded results, which many Tory MPs think should have been corrected before a change in policy was needed, has been described as “the last straw” but some.
But the overall handling of coronavirus and a widespread belief that the government has “pursued a socialist line” on the disease and went “way too far with lockdown measures” destroying the economy is at the heart of the anger among many Conservatives.
The leadership bid meeting took place at a location in Mayfair last week with sources saying the minister “needed time to prepare policies” and “establish a campaign USP”.
It had been set up because friends of the MP believe “the writing is on the wall for the Prime Minister”.
According to Boyle Sport Chancellor Rishi Sunak is the favourite to replace Mr Johnson at 3/1 followed by Michael Gove 8/1, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab 12/1 and Home secretary Priti Patel 16/1.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is thought to have a chance to make a run at 20/1, the same odds as foreign affairs select committee chairman Tom Tugendhat.
According to backbenchers, Tory MPs’ private messaging Whatsapp groups are “full of criticism and dissatisfaction” with the government direction.
One said: “We have a mixture of new MPs wondering when we are going to deliver on the manifesto we ran on in 2019 and old hands being highly critical of the current direction of the government.”
One Conservative source suggested Mr Johnson could be gone before the end of the year but the majority believe he wants to get Brexit over the line and complete the transition period with the EU by December 31.
One said: “He will want to complete Brexit, that will secure his legacy and will deliver on his biggest promise to the British people.”
Others are also concerned about his health since suffering from the disease early on and having a spell in hospital.
“He came closer to dying than many people realise,” said one source. “Other people in his position may not have been so lucky.”
“He has definitely been lacking energy and there hasn’t ever been a point where we felt he was taking a grip,” another added.
But other MPs have warned their colleagues that speaking out against the Prime Minister is “doing Labour’s work for them”.
“We have an 80 seat majority which he delivered and people now want to replace him, it’s bonkers,” one MP told the Sunday Express.
“These are unprecedented times and we have to look at what’s happening in that light,” another said.
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