Theresa May is under pressure following a series of blows to her Brexit deal, which has seen the Prime Minister ask the European Union (EU) for a delay to Brexit until June 30. Some Brexiteers have hinted they could back her deal in a third meaningful vote, if Mrs May sets out a timetable to resign as Prime Minister. Tory Brexiteers have made Boris Johnson the hot favourite to replace Mrs May, but he would first have to win around several MPs in the party to place him in that final list of two candidates.
One minister told The Guardian she would leave the party if Johnson and his allies, including Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, took over the running of the Conservative Party.
Another minister claimed he knew up to six Conservatives who are openly against Mr Johnson becoming leader, and would not be able to remain in the party run by the former foreign Secretary and a group of “Brexit ultras”.
Anna Soubry, who quit as a Tory MP last month to join newly formed The Independent Group, believes “people will leave” if Mr Johnson were to become Prime Minister.
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He would face strong competition from former Brexit Secretaries Dominic Raab and David Davis, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom.
Mr Johnson’s supporters believe MPs could rally behind him if they are convinced a leadership challenge isn’t far away, because he is a high-profile name who could challenge Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
One Brexiteer, who wants the former Foreign Secretary to tell Mrs May she must stand down regardless of whether her Brexit deal is voted through Parliament, told The Guardian: “Who outside Westminster has heard of Dominic Raab?”
“Boris still has the star quality that we would need with the electorate to beat Corbyn if there is going to be an election soon.
“There is going to be an election in 2019 if you look at Parliament.”
Mr Johnson and Mr Raab, who both quit their roles last year in opposition to Mrs May’s Brexit plan and refused to back her deal in a third meaningful vote, are looking to rally support from Brexiteers.
But an increasing number of MPs are now starting to back Mrs May’s deal, shown by a loss of 149 votes in the meaningful vote earlier this month compared to a 230 vote swing in January.
One MP and former minister told The Guardian: “No one is talking about anything else but the leadership in the tea rooms.
“There isn’t anything more to say about whether May’s deal will pass because we are just waiting for the DUP.
“There is a really strong anti-Boris feeling but all the Brexiters may get on board with him if they feel the wind is blowing in his direction because they will want jobs.”
The possible leadership challenge comes as bookmakers slash the odds on Mrs May being replaced as Prime Minister in June, with Coral quoting 8/1 following her request to delay Brexit for three months.
The Prime Minister is odds-on at 1/3 to be replaced this year and 12/1 that she doesn’t even see out this month.
Coral has also trimmed the odds on Mr Johnson becoming the next Prime Minister from 6/1 to 5/1 after some support in the betting over the last 48 hours.
Mr Johnson has now joined Mr Corbyn as joint favourite to be next into Number 10, with Mr Gove (7/1) the only other MP with single figure odds.
Coral’s Harry Aitkenhead said: “Boris has never been far from the top of our betting to be next Prime Minister and it certainly wouldn’t shock anybody to see him sneaking into Number Ten at some point.
“Punters seem to be able to picture it as BoJo has been the best backed by our customers to replace Theresa May over the last week.”