James Cleverly has admitted he was left “disappointed” that Boris Johnson abandoned his sensational comeback bid. The Foreign Secretary backed the former PM in the Tory leadership race which Rishi Sunak went on to win.
Mr Johnson, who never officially entered the contest, announced on Sunday he was not going ahead with his return despite saying he had secured the 100 nominations from Tory MPs.
During an appearance on Sky News this morning, Mr Cleverly was asked: “You must have received some assurances that he was going to stand. When he announced that he was not, how did that make you feel? He hung Nadhim Zahawi out to dry.”
The Foreign Secretary said: “We could see the support he was getting was around the 100 mark that was enough for him to stand.
“The conversations I had with him, his intention was to stand. I was disappointed he didn’t put himself forward.
“But, ultimately, it was becoming clear even on the Sunday, Monday, it was becoming increasingly clear that the parliamentary party overwhelmingly wanted to see Rishi Sunak at the helm.
“We absolutely respect that. Rishi is an experienced, thoughtful and energetic politician, and I’m very, very happy to serve in his Government.”
Mr Johnson flew back from a family holiday in the Caribbean on Saturday following Liz Truss’s resignation as speculation of a dramatic comeback went into overdrive.
But late on Sunday the charismatic 58-year-old admitted that he could not unite the warring party.
He said efforts to “reach out” to his rivals – Mr Sunak and Penny Mordaunt – to work together in the national interest had not been successful so he was dropping out.
But he insisted there was a “very good chance” he could have been back in Downing Street by the end of the week if he had stood.
Ms Mordaunt’s 11th-hour withdrawal led to Mr Sunak being crowned on Monday without an online ballot of Tory members.
Mr Johnson yesterday congratulated Mr Sunak, who was seen as instrumental in his downfall over the summer, on becoming Prime Minister.
He said: “Congratulations to Rishi Sunak on this historic day, this is the moment for every Conservative to give our new PM their full and wholehearted support.”
Meanwhile, in his first speech from Downing Street yesterday, Mr Sunak said he will “always be grateful” to Mr Johnson for his “incredible achievements” during his time in the top job.
He pledged to deliver on the Conservative 2019 manifesto, insisting Mr Johnson would agree it is not “the sole property of any one individual”.
He said: “I will always be grateful to Boris Johnson for his incredible achievements as prime minister and I treasure his warmth and generosity of spirit.
“I know he would agree that the mandate my party earned in 2019 is not the sole property of any one individual, it is a mandate that belongs to and unites all of us.
“And the heart of that mandate is our manifesto. I will deliver on its promise.
“A stronger NHS, better schools, safer streets, control of our borders, protecting our environment, supporting our armed forces, levelling up and building an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit where businesses invest, innovate and create jobs.”