Media caption, Watch: Boris Johnson ‘clearly’ going to stand – Jacob Rees-Mogg
By Becky Morton
BBC political reporter
Boris Johnson is “clearly” still going to stand to be prime minister, after holding talks with his rival Rishi Sunak, one of his supporters has said.
Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told the BBC the ex-PM had the 100 backers needed to be in the contest.
However, just over half that number have publicly declared their support for Johnson, while former chancellor Mr Sunak has already passed the 100 mark.
Mr Sunak officially declared on Sunday morning that he was running.
He and Mr Johnson met on Saturday night, prompting speculation they could strike a deal.
That would see one of them stand aside in the belief that it gives a clear run to the other, although Commons leader Penny Mordaunt has also declared her intention to stand.
But asked what happened at the meeting, Sunak-backer Dominic Raab told BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I don’t think there’s any issues around deals here and that’s not the right way to proceed.”
He added: “What they did have was a very good conversation about the need for unity.”
Mr Sunak currently has 146 Conservative MPs who have publicly given him their backing, while Mr Johnson has 57 and Ms Mordaunt has 24, according to BBC research.
Of the three, only Mr Johnson has not yet officially said he intends to run.
Officially announcing his candidacy, Mr Sunak said the country was facing a “profound economic crisis” and as chancellor he had “helped to steer our economy through the toughest of times”.
He pledged to “fix the biggest problems we face” and “deliver on the promise of the 2019 manifesto”, with “integrity professionalism and accountability”.
Former home secretary Suella Braverman – who ran to be leader earlier this year – has thrown her support behind Mr Sunak, writing in The Telegraph that he could “put our house in order and apply a steady, careful hand on the tiller”.
Mr Raab, who served as deputy prime minister under Mr Johnson, said Mr Sunak was “the right person” to be PM for both economic and political reasons.
He said Mr Sunak had got the “fundamental calls” on the economy right and had the “experience to deliver” from his time as chancellor under Mr Johnson.
Mr Raab added that Mr Sunak also had a broad range of support from Tory MPs, which was “growing by the hour”.
However, Mr Raab refused to say whether Mr Sunak would keep Jeremy Hunt as chancellor, saying it was not right to “start handing out jobs” during a leadership election.
He added that Mr Sunak would “put a government of all the talents” in place.
Ms Mordaunt has confirmed she would keep Mr Hunt in his role if she becomes PM to ensure a “smooth transition of power”.
The chancellor is due to give a statement on the government’s plans for spending cuts and taxes on 31 October – just days after a new PM is set to be installed.
Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Boris Johnson arrived back in the UK from holiday on Saturday
Meanwhile, Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Johnson was the “greatest electoral asset” his party had seen in modern times and highlighted his role in delivering Brexit, supporting Ukraine and getting the country through the Covid pandemic.
Asked why the public should accept his return as prime minister given the scandals which forced him to leave office just over six weeks ago, Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Johnson had a mandate from his 2019 general election victory.
“Call for a general election is pretty hollow if the person who won the mandate is actually the prime minister,” he added.
Labour and other opposition parties have been calling for a general election, which is currently set for two years time, following the resignation of Liz Truss.
Leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC: “Let the public in to decide. Do they want to continue with this utter chaos or do they want stability under a Labour government?”
However, to force an early general election the majority of MPs would need to support a motion of no confidence – meaning some Tories would have to vote down their own government.
Sir Keir said Tory MPs had a choice to make “because they can either put their party first or their country first”.
Media caption, Watch: Sir Keir Starmer says he is not being complacent about Labour’s current popularity in the polls
Earlier, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, who is an influential figure on the right of the party, came out in support of Mr Sunak.
The former chairman of the European Research Group of Brexiteer Tory MPs said Mr Johnson becoming prime minister would be “a guaranteed disaster”.
He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday his premiership would “implode” in the face of an investigation into whether he deliberately misled the Commons over what he knew about Covid rule-breaking at Downing Street.
The Privileges Committee is due to begin taking oral evidence for its inquiry, including from Mr Johnson himself, in the coming weeks.
Leadership contenders have until 14:00 BST on Monday to get the required 100 nominations to qualify for the next stage of the race.
If Tory MPs get behind just one candidate, we could have a new prime minister by Monday afternoon.
But if not, it will then go to an online ballot of the Conservative party membership, with the result to be announced on Friday.