Stanch Boris Johnson ally Nadine Dorries has insisted the former prime minister “will be back” one day, as she recalled an “upbeat” atmosphere among friends following his aborted bid for a second stint in the top job.
The ex-Cabinet minister said Johnson threw a “successful” party to thank his supporters after he bowed out of the race to replace Liz Truss, with a “general ‘air’ in the room” to suggest people anticipated his return – be it relatively soon or a decade down the line.
Johnson flew back from the Caribbean in a dramatic turn of events as he plotted a return to No 10 less than two months after being ousted in the wake of a series of scandals.
But he later dropped his comeback bid, saying he had been unsuccessful in his efforts to “reach out” to his rivals – Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt – to work together in the national interest.
Former culture secretary Dorries said there was a “huge crowd” at the gathering, adding: “Everybody loves him.”
“There was a general ‘air’ in the room and certainly people saying he will be back,” she told The House magazine.
“He will be back. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, I don’t know whether it will be 10 years or 10 months.”
But she said Johnson first needs to “recoup”, suggesting the top job comes at a price, literally.
“I used to say that to be a prime minister you need to be rich because it costs you a lot of money,” she said.
“It is part of the role to invite people to Chequers, but you have to pay for every cup of tea served out of your own pocket.”
In an apparent reference to Sunak’s wealth, she noted: “Unless you are a multimillionaire, it is a problem.”
Dorries also expressed concern over the fate of the Online Safety Bill under the new-look Conservative Government. This has been stalled again in its journey through Parliament, leading to concerns the ground-breaking legislation may be diluted or even scrapped.
Critics of the Bill believe attempts to define “legal but harmful” content are “authoritarian”.
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said during Truss’s brief stint in No 10 that officials would be looking again at this wording, stressing provisions to protect children would remain unchanged.
But Dorries, who worked extensively on the Bill during her tenure in the department, claimed her successor does not have a sufficient grip on the issue.
“There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why the Bill needs to be altered in any way,” Ms Dorries said.
“Mainly because all of the difficult and contentious stages of the Bill, including legal but harmful, have already been passed. It’s already through. Our own party voted for it.
“Michelle has been in the job five minutes and does not understand enough about it.”
Not watering anything down
Donelan denied any suggestion the Bill was being diluted, claiming Dorries’ comments “misrepresent our ongoing work”.
“We are not watering anything down. We’re going further to keep children safe, hold social media platforms to account, protect free speech and we are committed to tackling posts which encourage self harm,” she said.
“My top priority is getting the Bill in shape so that it becomes law as quickly as possible and delivers on its core purpose: protecting children and wiping out criminal activity online.”
Dorries said her own experience of online abuse was not a driving force behind the Bill, but acknowledged it has affected her.
“If I didn’t have a thick skin, I would be dead by now,” she said.