TWO New Forest MPs have publicly thrown their support behind Boris Johnson in the Conservative leadership contest.
Tory Brexiters Sir Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West, and Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, are backing the former foreign secretary – widely seen as the frontrunner to succeed Theresa May.
Sir Desmond used Twitter to announce his preferred choice – with a pen sketch of Mr Johnson on a bicycle.
Mr Johnson, the former mayor of London, resigned from the government in July last year over Mrs May’s proposed EU withdrawal agreement.
Sir Desmond told the A&T: “He was a very good mayor. Principally my enthusiasm is for him as a campaigner. He has the ability to reach beyond the Conservative circle of wagons.
“Overwhelmingly we need a campaigner who can take on [Nigel] Farage. That’s the battle. If we do not have someone capable of delivering Brexit and capable of making that campaign and putting enthusiasm back into the Conservative fold, then we’re completely lost.”
As reported in the A&T, Mr Farage’s Brexit Party led the national vote at the European elections last month and helped drive the Tories into third place in the New Forest behind the Liberal Democrats.
Sir Desmond admitted Mr Johnson was a “flawed character” – including having been dishonest to former Tory leader Michael Howard and leading a colourful private life – but said that also gave him his political “attributes”.
The party’s leadership process holds votes among its MPs to whittle the contenders down to two who are then put to the wider membership to choose a winner. There are currently around a dozen who have put themselves forward.
Dr Lewis said: “The next leader must be someone who actively campaigned for Brexit and who is determined to ensure that we leave the EU in reality – not just in name only – at the end of October.
“Also required are good communication skills and an ability to restore and project confidence in the future of the UK as a strong, self-governing democracy. Boris Johnson has the charisma and self-assurance to succeed as prime minister.”
Christchurch MP Sir Chris Chope said he would be consulting his constituency party before making up his mind who to back in the first round of voting next Thursday.
Sir Chris, an ardent Brexiter, said: “The most important criteria to me is getting someone who ensures that we leave the EU on 31st October and no later.
“Obviously the candidates who are dissembling are not going to find favour with me. My view is that the Conservative party faces a really serious threat from the Brexit party and that threat can only be removed by leaving on time.”
He added: “What’s important is that members in the constituencies should be able to have a choice, which is what they did not have last time and which was the problem with the incumbent.”
Mrs May won the Tory leadership in 2016 without a vote of the membership after Andrea Leadsom – a candidate again in the latest contest – dropped out as the last contender.
Writing on his website Sir Desmond raised concerns about the UK’s next prime minister ultimately being chosen by members of a single political party, however, which he said “undermines the principle of parliamentary democracy”.
He said: “There is only one precedent for this: when Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair. The precedent doesn’t make it right.
“We are now in the strange position where urgent and critical business faces the nation, whilst we take two-and-a-half-month ‘breather’ to choose a party leader, who will become Prime Minister… but for how long?”