A defiant Boris Johnson vowed “I’ll be back” as he called on the Tories to deliver on Brexit and the promises of the 2019 manifesto.
The former prime minister hinted at a political comeback on the day he formally resigned as an MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
In a message in the Daily Express on Monday night he said: “We must fully deliver on Brexit and on the 2019 manifesto. We must smash Labour at the next election.
Johnson accuses Rishi Sunak of ‘talking rubbish’ on honours list
“Nothing less than absolute victory and total Brexit will do – and as the great Arnold Schwarzenegger said, I’ll be back.”
Mr Johnson announced his intention to quit as an MP on Friday in advance of a report from the privileges committee, which was investigating whether he lied to MPs about lockdown parties in Downing Street.
The cross-party Tory-majority panel, which is chaired by veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman, was expected to find he had deliberately misled parliament and recommend a suspension which could trigger a by-election.
The surprise resignation came hours after his long-awaited honours list was published, lacking the names of sitting MPs including former culture secretary Nadine Dorries and former minister Nigel Adams.
Rishi Sunak now faces three by-elections at a time when the Conservatives are trailing behind Labour in the polls.
Mr Johnson’s camp accused Mr Sunak of having “secretly blocked” their peerages to avoid the potentially damaging electoral tests – something Downing Street has strenuously denied.
The feud between the former allies erupted into a bitter public slanging match on Monday, as the prime minister claimed his predecessor asked him to overrule a panel vetting his nominations to the House of Lords.
Mr Sunak said Mr Johnson wanted him “to do something I wasn’t prepared to do”, which was “to either overrule the Holac [House of Lords Appointments] committee or make promises to people”.
Hours later, the former Tory leader hit back with a fiery statement of his own accusing the PM of “talking rubbish”.
Mr Johnson said: “Rishi Sunak is talking rubbish. To honour these peerages it was not necessary to overrule Holac – but simply to ask them to renew their vetting, which was a mere formality.”
This line of attack was echoed by Ms Dorries, who claimed in an interview with Piers Morgan that she had her peerage “duplicity and cruelly ” snatched away from her by “privileged posh boys” and that she resigned because she was being “bullied” by Number 10.
In response, Downing Street repeated its insistence that Mr Sunak had “no involvement or input into the approved list”.
As the drama unfolded, Labour MP Chris Bryant, chair of parliament’s standards committee, tweeted: “Purely puerile was how I described Johnson’s hissy fit resignation. I hadn’t thought it would be followed by pathetic playground antics by both Sunak and Johnson arguing over who’s lying and who started it.”
Partygate report ‘expected on Wednesday after printing issues’
While many of Mr Johnson’s allies will likely welcome his intention to return to frontline politics, pundits have cast doubt on the likelihood of this happening before the next general election, while a YouGov poll has suggested the majority of the public (56%) don’t want him to come back as an MP.
It comes as the panel of MPs examining claims that Mr Johnson lied to parliament over “partygate” is poised to deliver a damning verdict on Wednesday.
Members of the committee met today to finalise their report but issues with printing hard copies mean that they need an extra day before it is ready to be published, Sky News understands.
In a report expected to be hard-hitting, the inquiry is believed to have found that Mr Johnson not only made recklessly inaccurate statements in the Commons over partygate, but also deliberately lied to MPs.
It has been suggested that – before Mr Johnson’s resignation as an MP – the committee had been discussing a 20-day suspension, triggering a recall petition and potential by-election.
He cannot be suspended now he has resigned, but he could be refused a parliamentary pass offered to former MPs, a sanction imposed on former speaker John Bercow after a bullying report.