Boris Johnson would be “distracted” by the Commons partygate probe if he were to become prime minister again, a former ally has said.
Dominic Raab, who was deputy prime minister in Mr Johnson’s government, believes he would be “absorbed” by the Privileges Committee investigation into his handling of partygate within days of returning to power.
It would pull the country into a “sort of Groundhog Day of partygate” and make it difficult to move forward with a range of pressing issues, he suggested.
Mr Raab also told Times Radio: “The issue right now is that within days of us having a new prime minister, which is latest next Friday, the Committee on Privileges and Conduct is going to start taking oral testimony, including from Boris but also other witnesses.
“And it doesn’t seem to me possible for anyone to be prime minister who is absorbed and has their focus distracted and is enmeshed in that next saga or episode of the soap opera that is partygate, and at the same time give the country the attention that it requires.
“We’d be back in the sort of Groundhog Day of partygate, we’ve got to have the country and the government moving forward.
“I’d like to hear the answer to how you can give evidence, how you can have these testimony hearings going on from the Committee on Privileges and Conduct, and at the same time be prime minister, giving the country, the economy, the NHS, the relentless laser-like focus it needs. I haven’t heard an answer to that question. If someone thinks that they can provide that then they need to explain it very clearly or Boris does.”
Mr Raab, who is backing former chancellor Rishi Sunak for the Tory leadership, told BBC Breakfast: “I think it is very clear that Rishi has the broadest appeal because, and this is critical, he can restore trust. I think he is best placed to restore that confidence that we sorely need.”
A return for Mr Johnson would be beset with challenges, not least the inquiry into whether he lied to the Commons over the partygate scandal, for which he was fined by police.
If found guilty by the Commons Privileges Committee, he could face recall proceedings that would leave him battling for his seat in the Commons if he receives a suspension of 10 days or more.
His popularity with the public has crashed, even if he still rides high with the Tory membership.
Some MPs have even suggested they could resign the party whip if he wins.
Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt is the only candidate who has so far officially declared she is running.
Dame Maria Miller, a Mordaunt supporter, believes that Mr Johnson must be thinking about whether it is “appropriate” he should enter the leadership contest.
She told BBC Breakfast: “I certainly think that Boris Johnson would be thinking very long and hard as to whether it would be appropriate to put himself forward to lead our country at a time where… he is still subject to a very serious Privileges Committee investigation which could ultimately lead to him having to resign as minister.
“I am sure he, who has put our country first in his life even when he was sick and in hospital during the pandemic, would not want to jeopardise the stability of our country – again that is why I am supporting Penny Mordaunt because I think she brings that stability.
“She can reach out to people who really need to have knowledge that they have got somebody in 10 Downing Street who really understands the struggles of ordinary people in this country.”