Priti Patel has announced she is backing Boris Johnson in the Conservative leadership contest.
The former home secretary is the latest MP to come out in favour of Johnson’s expected bid to return to Downing Street, despite critics warning of further chaos over the impending parliamentary inquiry into the Partygate scandal.
The former prime minister has already won the support of six current cabinet ministers, including Ben Wallace, Simon Clarke, Chris Heaton-Harris, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Alok Sharma and Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Saturday, Patel wrote: “Boris has the mandate to deliver our elected manifesto and a proven track record getting the big decisions right.”
“From the successful vaccine rollout to investing in levelling up, and from delivering more police on our streets to getting Brexit done, Boris has the leadership qualities, democratic mandate and optimism to get our country through these challenging times.
“I’m backing Boris to return as our prime minister, to bring together a united team to deliver our manifesto and lead Britain to a stronger and more prosperous future.”
Johnson, who was ousted from office after a mass resignation of cabinet ministers earlier this year, landed at Gatwick airport on Saturday morning with his family on their way home from their Caribbean holiday. Since his resignation, Johnson appears to have been on three foreign holidays.
Sky News photographed him and his wife, Carrie, in economy class on an overnight British Airways flight back from the Caribbean with their children and said the MP received “one or two boos” as he boarded.
The flight, which was being tracked by about 7,000 users of the FlightRadar24 website, landed 47 minutes behind schedule.
The former chancellor Rishi Sunak remains ahead and favourite to win. As of Saturday morning, the Guardian has counted more than 100 public nominations for Sunak – the required number of backers – which secures him a position on the ballot paper on Monday.
David Frost, a former chief Brexit negotiator and Cabinet Office minister and close ally of Johnson, called on his party colleagues in the Commons to back Sunak.
Lord Frost tweeted: “Boris Johnson will always be a hero for delivering Brexit. But we must move on. It is simply not right to risk repeating the chaos and confusion of the last year.
“The Tory party must get behind a capable leader who can deliver a Conservative programme. That is Rishi Sunak.
“As I wrote in July: ‘[Rishi] would be a very able prime minister. He understands the issues, can work the machine, and is a decent guy to boot. He would mark a big change in ‘feel’ from the Boris years.’
“That’s what we now need. Let’s get behind Rishi.”
Johnson’s critics said some Tory MPs would be likely to go independent or defect to another party if he won again.
Dominic Raab, who is backing Sunak, has said he does not understand how Johnson’s leadership bid could be reconciled with the pending privileges committee hearing. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former deputy prime minister said: “We cannot have another episode of the Groundhog Day, of the soap opera, of Partygate. We must get the country and the government moving forward.”
Andrew Stephenson, a Johnson ally, told the programme he believed the former prime minister still had support among the party’s membership.
The Tory MP and minister said: “There was a huge amount of support from party members still for Boris and they were quite upset that parliamentarians had got rid of him.”
The Commons privileges committee is to begin taking oral testimony as part of its investigation into whether Johnson misled MPs over the Partygate scandal in the near future.
Despite being a deeply divisive figure within the parliamentary party, he remains popular with the Tory grassroots, who could get a say in the process of choosing a new leader. A YouGov poll earlier this week found 32% put him as their top candidate, ahead of Sunak at 23%.
Penny Mordaunt is the only MP to have formally declared her intention to run in the race and, according to reports, has the backing of just 22 MPs so far.
The leader of the house, who finished third in the last leadership election, said she had been encouraged by the support she had received from fellow Conservative MPs and wanted to unite the party.
The Guardian has counted 49 public backers for Boris Johnson so far.