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Bring Johnson into election campaign, desperate Tories urge Sunak

The Conservatives should put Boris Johnson at the centre of their general election campaign to stave off a massive defeat, senior Tories have said in an intervention which puts fresh pressure on Rishi Sunak.

The Prime Minister claims to have spoken to his predecessor about how to stop Sir Keir Starmer reaching No 10, but there is no sign of Mr Johnson playing any significant role in the election yet.

While it is no longer possible for the former party leader to stand as a candidate in this election, his allies are keen to see him return to the campaign trail with public appearances.

One senior Tory figure close to Mr Johnson told i: “All Rishi has to do is make the call to Boris and I hope he does. We need him on the campaign, and I am certain that if he is asked to play a role that he would be delighted to.

“He is an election winner, and the only campaigner we have to compete with Nigel Farage. It is frankly bonkers that the Prime Minister has not picked up the bat phone. We need him.”

Another leading MP added: “Rishi’s effing campaign is getting us nowhere and is leading us to a massive defeat.

“He needs to recognise his limitations and understand the huge threat to the party. He needs to put his pride on the shelf and get Boris to help the party and also for the sake of the country.”

Friends of Mr Johnson have previously said that he was planning to be out of the country for most of the general election campaign, having been taken by surprise by the timing of polling day on 4 July.

A source close to Mr Sunak indicated that his predecessor’s unavailability would limit the role he can play in the campaign, but added that Tory strategists expect Mr Johnson to continue to attack Labour in his weekly Daily Mail columns.

In his article on Friday, the former premier hit out at Sir Keir Starmer, claiming he would “whack up your taxes and wallow in wokery” and accusing him of planning to move the UK closer to the EU.

Mr Johnson wrote: “Bit by bit he will give up our freedoms until this country is effectively locked in the legislative dungeon of Brussels like some orange ball-chewing gimp.”

Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson are not believed to have spoken in person, other than brief exchanges at formal events such as Remembrance Sunday, since November 2022 when they held a meeting to discuss the possibility of a shock joint ticket to replace Liz Truss as Conservative leader.

They worked closely together when Mr Johnson plucked the younger man out of relative obscurity to become first a Cabinet minister and then Chancellor, but fell out after Mr Sunak resigned in protest at the then-Prime Minister’s behaviour, leading to his being forced from office within 48 hours.

Polls suggest that Mr Johnson is not significantly more popular than his successor among the electorate as a whole, but has a significant lead among the pro-Brexit former Tory voters who have switched to Reform UK.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are back on the campaign trail after pausing for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. i‘s general election live blog is the go-to place for everything from party manifestos to candidate news and who could decide the election.

Sir Keir and other party leaders have condemned Mr Sunak for departing from D-Day celebrations early, and the Prime Minister issued an apology. Meanwhile, Labour has announced a plan to help first-time buyers get on the housing ladder.

Meanwhile, i has launched its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto, urging parties to commit to five pledges to improve our waterways. Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has become the first to back the campaign.

Tonight, seven representatives from the main parties will battle it out in a general election leaders’ debate, which will be live blogged in full on the i website.

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