Boris Johnson grabs highly prized new Westminster office to prepare for Conservative leadership bid

Exclusive: Spacious rooms are big enough for a campaign team – and in the ideal location to woo MPs

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 18 April 2019 17:20
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Boris Johnson says that the Brexit process has become satirical

Boris Johnson has grabbed himself a highly prized new Commons office in a move designed to help him win a Conservative leadership contest.

The leading Brexiteer is moving into spacious rooms big enough to accommodate a campaign team at the heart of the Westminster estate, The Independent has learnt.

The switch will allow the former foreign secretary – still the bookies’ favourite to succeed Theresa May – to better coordinate efforts to win the backing of Tory MPs in the looming contest.

In contrast, Mr Johnson’s previous office was both smaller and some distance from Portcullis House, where MPs congregate to eat and hold informal meetings in the large atrium.

His move comes as grassroots Tories begin efforts to topple the prime minister after her failure to deliver Brexit on time, by triggering an extraordinary general meeting of the Conservatives’ National Convention.

At the same time, Conservative MPs are gathering signatures to try to force her out – within weeks, if, as feared, the 2 May local elections end in defeat for many hundreds of Tory councillors.

Mr Johnson was offered the office switch by Mike Penning, a former minister who revealed he is close to endorsing the man he describes as “a winner”.

“If Boris is going to run for the leadership, then he needs to have a full team around him and he needs the office to allow him to do that,” Mr Penning told The Independent.

“He could well be the next prime minister, so it needs to be a credible office at the heart of Westminster – not a box in some annexe away from where MPs are most of the time.”

Mr Johnson is moving from a room in a separate building on the corner of Whitehall to above the busy Portcullis House atrium.

Ironically, the office he is vacating was previously used by Michael Gove, after Ms May turfed him out of the cabinet in 2016, before bringing him back in desperation.

The help being given by Mr Penning, a working-class Tory, to Mr Johnson – an Old Etonian – will raise eyebrows, but will also be highly valued.

The former home office minister is a renowned Tory fixer who helped propel Iain Duncan Smith to the Tory leadership in 2001 and was an adviser to William Hague before that.

Mr Penning added: “I have not declared my support for Boris, but it is pretty obvious from my offer that I am minded to do that. He is a winner, as he showed in London.

“I have offered him the office because it is much more substantial than his current one and I don’t really need one that large.”

The campaign to succeed Ms May is already effectively underway, despite her determination to survive until she wins Commons approval for a deal.

Mr Johnson is keen for an early contest, standing on a promise of adopting a tougher stance towards Brussels.

Up to eight cabinet ministers could yet launch a bid, in an extraordinarily crowded field to be whittled down, by votes of Conservative MPs, to just two.

If Mr Johnson makes that final pairing, he is expected to be difficult to stop when the ultimate choice is made in a ballot of the party’s 120,000 members.

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