Conservative sources claim that if Boris Johnson returns as prime minister he could be ‘gone by Christmas’, due to damning new evidence about the partygate scandal which brought him down.
Several people familiar with the Privileges Committee’s investigation into whether Boris Johnson misled MPs over parties in No10 have spoken to ITV News.
They say that a large amount of damaging evidence from inside No10 has already been handed over to Harriet Harman, who is chairing the inquiry.
ITV News understands that the Labour MP is particularly focused on what happened in Downing Street as the scandal unfolded last December.
“She’s not interested in the colour – who was drinking what, was there a cake?”, one source with knowledge of the inquiry told us.
Instead, Harriet Harman is said to be laser focused on the advice Boris Johnson received from No10 staff as revelations about parties hit the headlines.
Crucially, the inquiry will try to establish whether there is evidence that he was part of a cover up when he told MPs that no rules had been broken, or whether he was misled by staff himself.
One source told ITV News that Harriet Harman had already received incriminating material from inside No10 in relation to the matter.
Focus has once again turned to the Privileges Committee following speculation that Boris Johnson may attempt to return as Prime Minister.
He has gained some early momentum in the race, with dozens of MPs hoping that he can improve the party’s polling.
However, if the Privileges Committee finds that Boris Johnson did indeed mislead MPs over partygate, the former Prime Minister would be facing a potential suspension from the House of Commons and may even be forced to resign a second time.
A significant number of MPs worry that this will only plunge the party back into chaos.
One Conservative source told ITV News: “It is amazing that some Tory MPs want Boris back, saying they think he can win them the next election.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston discusses the likelihood of Boris Johnson returning for a second stint as prime minister
"But will he even make it that far? If the Privileges Committee is as damning for him as it sounds, he is possibly gone by Christmas.
"The fact he is standing at all whilst under investigation is shameful. It's hardly the stability and unity everyone is calling for.”
Two sources told ITV News that junior staff in No10 are still facing disciplinary proceedings over partygate, with some feeling it would be unfair for Boris Johnson to return to his job while they are still being punished.
Separately, my colleague Anushka Asthana reports that Conservative MPs are even considering trying to ‘get rid’ of the inquiry into Boris Johnson’s behaviour.
They argue that a fresh mandate as leader would negate the need for any further investigations. However, this is likely to ignite further fury in other quarters.
One Conservative MP told ITV News that any move to quash the inquiry would be “Owen Paterson on steroids”, in reference to the scandal involving the former MP.
They added: “The only way to kill the inquiry would be a motion put forward in the House of Commons in which there’d be such a large rebellion by Conservative MPs that it would bring down the government.”
Ultimately, Tory MPs must decide whether Boris Johnson is the candidate who can unite their party. But speculation of his return is already proving deeply divisive.