Cabinet ally denies Boris Johnson’s leadership under threat in local elections

Cabinet ally denies Boris Johnson’s leadership under threat in local elections
PM is ‘right man’ to lead Tories into next general election, says Kwasi Kwarteng

Boris Johnson’s position as prime minister is safe regardless of how Conservatives do in Thursday’s local election, a key cabinet ally has claimed.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng admitted that the ballots, taking place across the UK, will be “challenging” for Tories, but insisted: “I don’t think his leadership is under threat at all.”

He brushed off reports that former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who finished second to Johnson in the last leadership election, is preparing a bid to oust him.

Mr Kwarteng’s comments come after a Savanta poll for The Independent showed Tories trailing six points behind Labour, with more than a quarter (27 per cent) of those who voted Conservative in 2019 are less likely to do so again if Johnson remains as leader.

Speculation over an immediate challenge to Mr Johnson’s leadership is ebbing away, as many Tory MPs indicate they will hold back on submitting letters of no confidence until the conclusion of the police’s investigation of lockdown-breaking parties at No 10 and civil servant Sue Gray’s Partygate report.

However it is expected that a bloodbath for Tories on Thursday will prompt more letters to 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady, who must order a contest if he receives requests from 54 Tory MPs.

But Mr Kwarteng told Sky News’s Sunday with Sophy Ridge: “I don’t think his leadership is at threat at all. I mean, what he’s delivered is really a remarkable series of successes. Brexit – he delivered on that. He was very widely appreciated in Ukraine and has been widely held as someone who’s led the overseas effort to help Ukraine. Also, look at the vaccine rollout, which was again a great success.”

Asked whether this meant Mr Johnson’s position was safe no matter what the results are no Thursday, Mr Kwarteng replied: “Absolutely.”

Responding to reports in the Mail on Sunday that Mr Hunt is preparing a challenge, Mr Kwarteng said: “Jeremy is a very capable colleague. He’s a good friend. I don’t know what he’s up to. But as far as I’m concerned, Boris Johnson is the right man by far to lead us into the next election.”

Electoral arithmetic means that fewer seats than usual may change hands on Thursday, but analysts believe that shedding more than around 350 councillors would be a bad result and 800 catastrophic for Mr Johnson.