Boris Johnson would be a “guaranteed disaster” and his administration would “implode” if he returned as Prime Minister, according to a Conservative minister.
Steve Baker’s intervention came during a fresh round of blows traded by Conservative MPs in support of their favoured leadership candidate during the Sunday morning broadcast interviews.
Northern Ireland minister Mr Baker, an influential figure on the Tory right, did not hold back as he offered his backing to former chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Mr Johnson is facing an inquiry by MPs into whether he lied to the House of 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.
Mr Baker told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I’m afraid the trouble is because of the (Commons Privileges Committee) vote, Boris would be a guaranteed disaster.
“There’s going to be a vote before the House of Commons on this issue of privileges, whether he deliberately misled the house.
“In that vote it’s guaranteed there’ll be a large number of Conservatives who will refuse, as they see it, to lay down their integrity to save him, and at that moment his premiership will collapse.”
He added: “It’s a guaranteed nailed-on failure and we cannot allow it to happen.”
Mr Baker suggested Mr Johnson could be an “amazing” chairman of the Tory party, noting: “What we can’t do is have him as prime minister in circumstances where he’s bound to implode, taking down the whole government within and we just can’t do that again.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, Mr Baker’s ministerial boss, backed Mr Johnson to make a return.
He told the same programme: “This is a time when we need a big player like Boris in our politics so I think he will.”
Mr Heaton-Harris added: “He is a great unifier, he is a great campaigner, he is someone who has a solid sense of what the country wants to hear and what the country needs to happen.”
Damian Green, a Conservative former deputy prime minister who is backing Penny Mordaunt, insisted now is not the right time to consider a return for Mr Johnson.
He told Sky: “We saw what happened last time. The government literally fell apart with 60-odd resignations so I just do not think it would work. I think particularly not at this time.
“We all know there’s this standards committee investigation going on and as long as that is going on there is the possibility if he became leader again, then in a couple of months time we’d all be here again and, absolutely, we should not put the country through that.”
Conservative former cabinet minister Dominic Raab, a supporter of Mr Sunak, also told BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg: “I’d love to see Boris Johnson come back to frontline politics, I’m speaking personally.
“But we have this major issue which led to him having to resign, which is partygate, and in a matter of days, not weeks, he’s going to see televised witness testimony, including his own, which is going to take him right back into that spiral.”