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Secret Boris Johnson backers will break cover to defend him against Commons probe, allies claim

Boris Johnson supporters will break into the open later this year to defend him against allegations he lied to Parliament, according to allies.

Tory critics claim that the small number of MPs willing to back the ex-prime minister publicly shows he no longer has a significant following in the party.

But a handful of high-profile supporters have accused Rishi Sunak’s team of trying to undermine Mr Johnson by referring new claims of Covid rule-breaking to the Commons Privileges Committee which is already probing his behaviour.

And his friends have warned the current leader that he may face a challenge once the committee has finished its report, if the Conservatives’ position in the polls remains bad.

One Tory MP told i: “There may only be five active supporters but there will be others who are keeping low until the Privileges Committee reports. I can’t imagine MPs with small minorities are exactly happy with the present polls.”

The Johnson camp staged a quiet show of strength in Parliament last week when they boycotted a vote into whether Margaret Ferrier should be suspended from the Commons for 30 days for coming to Westminster when she knew she was infected with Covid-19.

Allies of the former prime minister have said privately that if Ms Ferrier, who has already been thrown out of the SNP, loses her seat it could set a precedent for Mr Johnson. By staying away from Parliament when the motion was due to be debated on Thursday, they ensured that there was not the quorum needed to make the vote binding.

Andrea Jenkyns, the MP for Morley & Outwood, who is one of Mr Johnson’s most vocal supporters, refused to endorse Mr Sunak staying as leader into the next general election. She told Sky News: “To me it depends on the polling. This is me personally and it would be political suicide to change leader again now, because we’d have to go through a general election and end up with what, 100 seats? I want to see a Conservative government elected.”

She added: “There has been an orchestrated campaign not only in my own party as well, because let’s face it, most of my fellow MPs who are ‘one nation’, to the left of the party, they have got the leader that they wanted in Rishi, they never accepted Boris, they never accepted Liz Truss and they are out of sync with the party membership who are big Boris fans.”

Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries insisted Mr Johnson was the victim of a political plot after fresh allegations he held illegal gatherings were handed to the police, telling the BBC: “Anybody who thinks that just weeks before the Privileges Committee were about to announce their findings into the inquiry, that this just happened to be discovered and found and reported, I’m afraid it’s for the birds.”

A key “Red Wall” MP also backed a potential comeback for Mr Johnson. In an interview with i, Workington’s Mark Jenkinson said: “Never say never. His time in office wasn’t what I would have wanted for him nor what he wanted for himself. He has unfinished business and I think he’s got a lot to offer.”

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