BoJo’s charm offensive: Would-be PM launches his bid for the top job by meeting 200 fellow Tory MPs

Boris Johnson has already met 200 Conservative MPs during a lengthy charm offensive to get him on the Tory leadership ballot, it emerged last night.

He has warned them that the party faces an ‘existential’ crisis – and that only he can save them from both Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn.

Yesterday the former foreign secretary formally declared that he wants to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister.

But his campaign for the top job has been in full swing for months. Sources say he has hosted around 200 MPs, over half the Parliamentary party, in an attempt to rally them to his cause.

Boris Johnson has  formally declared that he wants to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister

Boris Johnson has  formally declared that he wants to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister

Boris Johnson has  formally declared that he wants to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister

Sources say Boris (pictured at an insurance conference in Manchester) has hosted around 200 MPs, over half the Parliamentary party, in an attempt to rally them to his cause

Sources say Boris (pictured at an insurance conference in Manchester) has hosted around 200 MPs, over half the Parliamentary party, in an attempt to rally them to his cause

Sources say Boris (pictured at an insurance conference in Manchester) has hosted around 200 MPs, over half the Parliamentary party, in an attempt to rally them to his cause

MPs have been meeting him in 15-minute slots in his fourth-floor office in Portcullis House. A whiteboard on the wall lists all the slots for the day. While other candidates have been parading their credentials with media appearances, Mr Johnson has barely been seen in public while he focuses on winning over MPs.

Before the leadership vote is put to the Tory membership, Mr Johnson must first reach the final two after a secret ballot of MPs – meaning he must win his colleagues over to succeed.

After David Cameron quit in 2016, Mr Johnson was a strong favourite to succeed him but pulled out after his Brexiteer colleague Michael Gove withdrew support at the last minute.

MPs who have met Mr Johnson in recent weeks say his new pitch is a simple one. ‘He says the Tory Party is in an existential crisis,’ said one. ‘He says he can see off Farage and beat Corbyn in any election when it comes.’

He argues that he can deliver Brexit but is also focused on domestic policy and keen to stress his credentials as a One Nation Tory, MPs say.

After David Cameron quit in 2016, Mr Johnson was a strong favourite to succeed him but pulled out after his Brexiteer colleague Michael Gove (left) withdrew support at the last minute

After David Cameron quit in 2016, Mr Johnson was a strong favourite to succeed him but pulled out after his Brexiteer colleague Michael Gove (left) withdrew support at the last minute

After David Cameron quit in 2016, Mr Johnson was a strong favourite to succeed him but pulled out after his Brexiteer colleague Michael Gove (left) withdrew support at the last minute

He has a settled campaign team, and speaks to Lynton Crosby (pictured), the Australian political strategist nicknamed the 'Wizard of Oz', every day

He has a settled campaign team, and speaks to Lynton Crosby (pictured), the Australian political strategist nicknamed the 'Wizard of Oz', every day

He has a settled campaign team, and speaks to Lynton Crosby (pictured), the Australian political strategist nicknamed the ‘Wizard of Oz’, every day

One minister who saw him recently – but isn’t yet backing him – said that unlike many of the other candidates he can talk about both Brexit and broader policy issues, and be ‘both a peacetime and wartime leader’.

Mr Johnson’s charm offensive contrasts sharply with his chaotic 2016 run, which fell apart when his campaign chairman, Michael Gove, turned on him to launch his own bid for the leadership.

Mr Johnson pulled out, fearing he did not have enough support among MPs, having not made enough effort to woo potential supporters.

This is a decision he deeply regrets. This time, allies insist, it will be different. They are keen to stress the ‘rigour and discipline’ of his campaign and his resolve.

Since resigning as Foreign Secretary over Mrs May’s Chequers deal last July Mr Johnson has also lost weight and got a more conventional haircut. 

His second marriage of 25 years ended last summer but he is happily living with his new girlfriend, Carrie Symonds.

He has a settled campaign team, and speaks to Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist nicknamed the ‘Wizard of Oz’, every day.

His second marriage of 25 years ended last summer but he is happily living with his new girlfriend, Carrie Symonds (pictured with Boris in Italy)

His second marriage of 25 years ended last summer but he is happily living with his new girlfriend, Carrie Symonds (pictured with Boris in Italy)

His second marriage of 25 years ended last summer but he is happily living with his new girlfriend, Carrie Symonds (pictured with Boris in Italy)

Boris has warned them that the party faces an 'existential' crisis – and that only he can save them from both Nigel Farage (pictured at an Essex rally) and Jeremy Corbyn

Boris has warned them that the party faces an 'existential' crisis – and that only he can save them from both Nigel Farage (pictured at an Essex rally) and Jeremy Corbyn

Boris has warned them that the party faces an ‘existential’ crisis – and that only he can save them from both Nigel Farage (pictured at an Essex rally) and Jeremy Corbyn

However, it’s unlikely the discipline will last the entire campaign. Indeed, yesterday’s announcement, at an insurance industry convention, was not planned. His allies admit it’s difficult to control a ‘maverick’. But this latest step is unlikely to make much difference in the long campaign.

‘Everyone knows he is running anyway,’ said a source close to Mr Johnson. ‘It’s an open secret. And half the Cabinet have declared. It looks better than weaselling around the question.’ 

Mr Johnson, who is still bruised by what he considered to be disloyal briefings by Foreign Office staff, is understood to have made reform of the civil service a priority of any premiership.

His hero: Jaws mayor who kept beach open 

He’s not averse to opening his mouth wide.

But in an unusual pitch for Britain’s top political job, Boris Johnson yesterday revealed an unlikely hero – the mayor from Jaws.

In the 1975 movie, Amity Island mayor Larry Vaughn refuses to close the beaches despite the panic as a great white shark devours swimmers.

But Mr Johnson told yesterday’s audience the character could provide inspiration at a time when Britain needs ‘politicians who aren’t afraid of some short-term downside to their own political careers’. 

‘The hero of Jaws is obviously the mayor,’ he said.

Mr Johnson said he ‘saw the pressure and stress on the shops and businesses’ of Amity Island as the shark spread terror among beach-goers.

‘In real life he would have been right,’ he added. 

Although he admits the mayor’s decision was ultimately questionable, Mr Johnson said ‘sometimes we’ve also got to be bold and think for the long term’. 

Six months ago, the prospect of a Boris victory seemed remote. But now even MPs who are not his natural supporters admit his campaign has got momentum.

With every defeat for Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal, and every fall in the polls, his prospects have improved as MPs look to someone who they think can save their seats.

If Mr Johnson can fend off rival Brexiteers such as former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab – and gather enough votes to make it to the final round, the darling of grassroots Tories will strongly fancy his chances in the vote among party members enraged that Brexit hasn’t happened.

With so many enemies in Parliament, however, that’s still a big if. Now he has formally announced, the sizeable number of MPs who want Anyone But Boris will also start gearing up

His critics, most of whom are on the Remain side of the party, argue that Mr Johnson is fundamentally unfit for high office. 

They fear he will drag the party away from the centre ground and adopt ‘populist’ policies and rhetoric.

Mr Johnson once said that he would like to be Tory leader ‘if the ball came loose from the back of the scrum’, and this time around he’s determined to grab it. The contest is likely to be decided by whether anyone can stop him.

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