The former Downing Street Chief of Staff, who has known Mr Johnson for over a decade, said the outgoing Prime Minister was “sad”, “cross”, and “shocked” at his early departure from No10. His intervention comes as Mr Johnson writes for the Express urging the Tory party to unite behind his successor when the result of the Tory leadership contest is announced tomorrow.
The incumbent quit in July after more than 60 of his own ministers left the Government in protest at his leadership.
Many Tory members were left incensed by their actions and demanded they be given a vote on whether to accept his resignation.
Since then, Mr Johnson has refused to be drawn on whether he would ever consider running to once again lead the country.
Speaking this morning, Lord Lister told Times radio: “I would never say never about anything to do with Boris Johnson.
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“And when people say ‘will we ever come back?’ I would say well, maybe.
“He is a very formidable operator.
“He is somebody who has proved, and been able to surprise people, time after time.
“I think when you see him outside, when you see some of the stuff I suspect he’ll end up writing and speaking about, people will realise that they really have lost a first-rate person, but thankfully he is staying in the Commons.”
He said that he still spoke to his “friend” on a regular basis and that Mr Johnson didn’t “ever believe that he ever did anything wrong”.
“I think he’s still, I think, very sad at what’s taken place. I think very shocked at what’s taken place, and the speed of it,” the Conservative peer said.
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“And yes, of course, he’s cross about it, but he also recognises that he has to move on and there’s other things out there.”
Polling has indicated that Mr Johnson remains very popular with the Conservative grassroots and that he would beat both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak if he was up against either of them in a leadership ballot.
Speaking to Sky News, Lord Lister added: “I think he was the best Prime Minister we’ve had.
“I think he would have continued to be a good Prime Minister and I think he would have been very successful in a further general election.”
Writing in the Sunday Express, Mr Johnson today urged “every Conservative to come together and back that new leader wholeheartedly”.
He wrote: “This is the time to put aside the disagreements of the last few weeks, fascinating though they may have been, and put the national interest first.
“As I leave Number Ten after three tough but often exhilarating years I know just how big and demanding this job is.
“I also know that either candidate is more than capable of delivering for the people of this country.
“I know that together we will get through this cost-of-living crisis just as we got through Covid.”
READ BORIS JOHNSON’S PARTING MESSAGE IN FULL