The Scottish Mail on Sunday

It’s ‘go, go’ for team BoJo... but is Gove the back­stab­ber be­hind him?

NEW PHOTO THAT SAYS: I’M SE­RI­OUSLY READY TO LEAD ...RE­MEM­BER HOW BIT­TER THINGS GOT LAST TIME, CHAPS?

- By Glen Owen and Brendan Car­lin

THEY be­came sworn en­e­mies af­ter last year’s Tory lead­er­ship con­test. But in the tu­mul­tuous af­ter­math of the Gen­eral Elec­tion are Boris John­son and Michael Gove about to come to­gether once again?

Al­lies of the For­eign Sec­re­tary claim that his for­mer ri­val has ‘reached out’ to him to pledge his sup­port for any fu­ture bid to suc­ceed Theresa May.

How­ever, last night, sources close to the for­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary de­nied he had made any such com­mit­ment, with one sug­gest­ing he was un­de­cided about whether he could ‘put up with a com­plete **** ’ – Boris – to win an elec­tion.

The ri­val claims emerged as Mr John­son’s back­ers in­sisted it was a ques­tion of ‘when, not if’ Mrs May will be forced to quit in the wake of last week’s dis­as­trous Gen­eral Elec­tion out­come.

The re­sult has sparked fran­tic be­hind-the-scenes jostling by the main contenders to re­place her, with Mr John­son al­ready billed as the fron­trun­ner, spurred on by am­bi­tious al­lies who have de­clared: ‘It’s go-go-go for Boris.’

They also boast that Mr John­son has al­ready re­ceived the pri­vate back­ing of sev­eral ‘se­nior Cab­i­net Min­is­ters’ as well as rank-and-file Tory MPs.

But the flam­boy­ant For­eign Sec­re­tary’s most se­ri­ous ri­val is ex­pected to be Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis, with many MPs pre­dict­ing a headto-head con­test be­tween the two Cab­i­net heavy­weights as early as the end of the sum­mer.

Mr Gove’s own prime min­is­te­rial am­bi­tions im­ploded af­ter he knifed Mr John­son by aban­don­ing the Boris cam­paign at the very last mo­ment and run­ning against him in last year’s lead­er­ship con­test.

Sources said he has now been wrestling with whether to end their feud and back a John­son bid for the top job amid spec­u­la­tion Mrs May could be forced out within weeks.

One ally close to Mr Gove re­sorted to aim­ing the C-word in­sult at Mr John­son to de­scribe the dilemma the for­mer Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary was fac­ing. He said: ‘When it comes to Boris be­ing leader, it’s the same ques­tion Michael and oth­ers faced last year: do we put up with a com­plete **** in or­der to win an elec­tion?

‘De­spite his faults – and we all know there are quite a few of those – Boris may be what a very de­flated Tory party needs right now. Michael is won­der­ing if it comes to a con­test, he needs to mod­er­ate his wellpub­li­cised ob­jec­tions to Boris and back him this time round.’

Sources close to the For­eign Sec­re­tary tried to play down the lead­er­ship spec­u­la­tion last night, in­sist­ing he was con­cen­trat­ing his en­er­gies on his Govern­ment job.

But sup­port­ers in­sisted that Mr Gove had al­ready de­cided to sup­port Mr John­son.

One said: ‘Gove’s al­ready reached out to Boris – he will sup­port him.’

The source made no se­cret of ‘BoJo’s’ readi­ness to launch a bid as soon as there was a va­cancy.

He said: ‘Sadly, we all know it’s a ques­tion of when, not if, Mrs May has to step down. All that’s in doubt is the timetable – it could be by the Tory Party Con­fer­ence in the au­tumn; it could be next year.’

The Boris backer sug­gested he was the ideal can­di­date to take on Jeremy Cor­byn’s abil­ity to con­nect with vot­ers.

‘We need BoJo,’ he added. ‘We need a Brex­i­teer. We need some­body who can talk and con­nect with peo­ple like Jeremy Cor­byn does.

‘We need some­one who can make Bri­tain be­lieve in it­self again.’

How­ever, another John­son friend sug­gested the For­eign Sec­re­tary was yet to com­mit him­self to a fresh tilt at the top job. He said: ‘It is a clas­sic Boris cock­tail: am­bi­tion mixed with head-in-hands fear.

‘With a sec­ond Gen­eral Elec­tion loom­ing on the hori­zon, Boris would have to be pretty con­fi­dent of do­ing what Theresa May couldn’t and win­ning that elec­tion clearly. No one wants to be the man who let Jeremy Cor­byn into Down­ing Street.’

The friend added: ‘He is keen to let the dust set­tle a bit be­fore he does any­thing.’

Con­ser­va­tive MPs are al­ready plot­ting for the lead­er­ship con­test on What­sApp, the smart­phone in­stant mes­sag­ing ser­vice. Spe­cial groups have also been set up to iden­tify who is likely to make the first move – and when.

Many Tory MPs ex­pect Mrs May to stay as Prime Min­is­ter for the sum­mer at least. If she has to an­nounce her de­par­ture, they want a suc­ces­sor elected be­fore the Tory party con­fer­ence in the au­tumn.

MPs say they be­lieve Mr Davis is also on ma­noeu­vres – with some in­sist­ing that he, and not Mr John- son, is the ideal man to steer the party out of cri­sis.

One Re­main-sup­port­ing MP, who said he had not spo­ken to Brex­i­teer Davis ‘for years’, re­vealed that they were struck by how friendly the Brexit Sec­re­tary had be­come since Thurs­day evening – im­ply­ing that he was try­ing to build bridges with party col­leagues who had been on the op­po­site side of the ref­er­en­dum de­bate.

Another said Mr Davis had made a ‘friendly’ phone call on Thurs­day evening, adding: ‘That is very out of char­ac­ter.’ Al­lies of for­mer

‘A clas­sic Boris cock­tail – am­bi­tion mixed with fear’

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Nicky Morgan also be­lieve she is con­sid­er­ing run­ning for leader as the Re­main can­di­date. Both Mr Davis and Mrs Morgan last night de­nied plan­ning a lead­er­ship bid.

Pro-Brexit Tory MPs have urged col­leagues to stop un­der­min­ing Mrs May with talk of lead­er­ship chal­lenges. In an ar­ti­cle for The Mail on Sun­day to­day, se­nior Con­ser­va­tive MP Bernard Jenkin says: ‘Only a tiny num­ber of MPs are ag­i­tat­ing against Mrs May.

‘They should stop feed­ing the head­lines or start to feel the wrath of the rest of the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

‘Theresa will con­tinue as Prime Min­is­ter, be­cause she can and she must.’

For­mer Cab­i­net Min­is­ter Theresa Vil­liers said: ‘It is very im­por­tant that the whole party ral­lies round Theresa May as the leader to take us through th­ese vi­tal Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

‘Di­vi­sive in­ter­nal party de­bates could dis­rupt ef­forts to de­liver Brexit and make it more dif­fi­cult to meet the de­mand­ing Ar­ti­cle 50 timetable.

‘We now need to look ahead to the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of Brexit, and Theresa May is the right per­son to en­able us to de­liver them.’

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 ??  ?? FRIENDS RE­UNITED? Gove and John­son dur­ing last year’s EU ref­er­en­dum cam­paign and, far left, the MoS rev­e­la­tion that the pair had held se­cret Brexit talks Boris John­son looked un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally stu­dious as he flicked through his min­is­te­rial pa­pers in...
FRIENDS RE­UNITED? Gove and John­son dur­ing last year’s EU ref­er­en­dum cam­paign and, far left, the MoS rev­e­la­tion that the pair had held se­cret Brexit talks Boris John­son looked un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally stu­dious as he flicked through his min­is­te­rial pa­pers in...

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