Behind the scenes

Boris Johnson leadership: Tories plotting revolt - but who could replace him?

Rebels threaten to challenge prime minister unless he sets date for lockdown exit

An influential Tory MP has warned that Boris Johnson risks being challenged for the party leadership unless he maps a clear path out of the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown.

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, has privately told MPs that “it’s inevitable the prime minister’s leadership will be on the table” unless an end date for the restrictions is set, The Sun reports.

In a note seen by the newspaper, Baker - former chair of the European Research Group (ERG) - urges fellow Tories to inform the chief whip that “debate will become about the PM’s leadership if the government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored”. He also encourages the rebels to demand “a guarantee that [the lockdown] strategy will not be used again next winter”.

Baker appears to be out of step with public opinion on the current lockdown, however. A YouGov poll of 4,340 people conducted a day after Johnson announced the latest shutdown found that 85% supported the nationwide measures.

All the same, alarm bells are likely to be ringing at No. 10 over the intervention by Baker, who “was seen as a key architect of Theresa May’s downfall”, notes The Telegraph.

Political pundits are already speculating about who might throw their hat into the ring in the event of a leadership challenge.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has previously been touted as a leader in waiting, and has played a high-profile role in the government’s pandemic response.

Priti Patel is another possible contender, with an unnamed former Tory minister telling The Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff last year that the home secretary had both big ambitions and “a following”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who ran for the leadership in 2019, may fancy a second bid for the top job. The same goes for Jeremy Hunt, who lost to Johnson in the final rounds of the 2019 contest.

Michael Gove could be another possible runner in what would be his third pitch for the top job.

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