Boris Johnson: Rishi Sunak has to call me first if he wants election help

Rishi Sunak said he and Boris Johnson speak on ‘occasion’, the most recent of which was ‘late last year’
Rishi Sunak said he and Boris Johnson speak on ‘occasion’, the most recent of which was ‘late last year’ - No 10 Downing Street/Andrew Parsons
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Boris Johnson expects Rishi Sunak to telephone him personally if he wants to ask for his help campaigning in the general election, The Telegraph understands.

It emerged that Conservative strategists want to deploy the former prime minister on the campaign trail later this year, despite a major fall-out between the pair in 2023 over Mr Johnson’s honours list.

Mr Johnson is not yet believed to have been approached to ask for help campaigning and a source familiar with the former prime minister’s thinking suggested that he would expect Mr Sunak to call him personally in the event that the Conservatives would like him to play an active part in a campaign. It is not clear if he would then agree to such a request.

A focus group of seven voters carried out last week in Wellingborough gives an indication of why senior Tories might be seeking the help of Mr Johnson, one of the party’s most formidable campaigners, on the campaign trail.

Among members of the group, all of whom backed the Tories under Mr Johnson’s leadership in 2019, Mr Sunak was compared unfavourably to his predecessor. While Mr Sunak was described by one voter as a “showbusiness man”, Mr Johnson was praised for his charisma and ability to “talk to the people”.

Four out of seven participants pinpointed his departure in September 2022 and subsequent Tory infighting as the reason why they gave up on the party.

Rishi Sunak visits Fordmore Farm Shop to discuss the building of Cullompton railway station
Rishi Sunak visits Fordmore Farm Shop to discuss the building of Cullompton railway station - CCHQ/Edward Massey

Last week, Mr Sunak said the pair speak on “occasion”, the most recent of which was “late last year”. However, this appears to relate to a brief greeting at the Remembrance Sunday service in November.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson declined to comment.

A No 10 source said: “We want the whole Conservative family to come together to beat Starmer and Labour at the next election. Boris and everyone else united in that aim will of course be welcome.”

As one of the first by-elections in the year in which a general election is due to take place, the result in Wellingborough, Northants, will be keenly watched by Tory MPs wondering if their own electoral prospects have all but vanquished.

Not a single member of last week’s focus group intends to support the party again in Thursday’s contest to replace Peter Bone after sexual misconduct and bullying allegations were upheld against Mr Bone, who denies the claims.

Wellingborough has a Conservative majority of 18,540 and the vote takes place on the same day as the Kingswood by-election to replace Chris Skidmore. Labour is the bookmakers’ favourite to gain both seats.

Participants in the focus group, organised by the More in Common think tank, described the Prime Minister as “financially on another planet” and accused him of “abandoning hard-working people”.

‘How can Rishi understand?’

Millie, a support worker for abuse victims, said: “It’s tough out there and Sunak is a multi-millionaire. How can he ever understand when it’s ‘heat or eat’, and in some cases neither?”

Shola, a taxi driver who criticised Mr Sunak over the use of taxpayer-funded hotels to house Channel migrant arrivals, added: “Personally I think he’s a showman, he is a showbusiness man. He has nothing, we didn’t even vote for him.”

The cost of living was identified by the group as the issue affecting them the most, followed by NHS waiting times and anti-social behaviour.

There was disbelief that the Tories had selected Helen Harrison, Mr Bone’s girlfriend, as their candidate in Wellingborough. Ryan, a social worker, asked “how stupid does the Conservative Party think we are?”

All seven participants reacted negatively to a transgender jibe made by Mr Sunak on Wednesday as the mother of Brianna Ghey, a murdered trans teenager, attended Prime Minister’s Questions.

Claire, an admin assistant, said the joke “absolutely turned my stomach”, while Millie added: “It’s just so insensitive. It’s about trying to score points but not knowing your audience. He just doesn’t get it.”

Luke Tryl, the director of More in Common, who moderated the session, said: “Considering all of this group voted Tory in 2019, their extent of disillusionment with the Government was shocking even for someone who runs focus groups like this on a weekly basis.

“On everything from dealing with the cost-of-living crisis to the NHS to Rishi Sunak’s week of gaffes, the group were unanimous in their view the Government had run out of steam and many harked back to a Boris administration or even Nigel Farage and Reform.”

Mr Tryl said the only silver lining for the Conservatives was “there was not much love for Labour either”.

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