Boris Johnson will underline his determination to unite a fractured and demoralised Conservative party and deliver Brexit by 31 October as he achieves his long-cherished ambition of becoming Britain’s prime minister.
The new Tory leader has already begun “love-bombing” sceptical centre-ground MPs as Theresa May prepared to leave No 10 Downing Street after three fraught years.
“He is at heart a one-nation Tory. That’s who he is and that’s how he’ll govern,” insisted a Johnson ally.
The former mayor of London swept to a convincing victory over Jeremy Hunt, after securing the backing of ardent Brexiters including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker.
Johnson won 66% of the votes – 92,153, to Hunt’s 46,656. Turnout was 87.4% among the Tory party’s 159,320 eligible members. But with a wafer-thin majority for the Conservatives in the House of Commons, he will need the backing of colleagues from both sides of the divide to get a Brexit deal through parliament.
As he begins to assemble his cabinet, with perhaps up to a dozen key appointments on Wednesday, Johnson will seek to highlight the diverse nature of his top team. “Boris will build a cabinet showcasing all the talents within the party that truly reflect modern Britain,” said an ally.
The former development secretary Priti Patel, who was sacked by May, is tipped for a return to cabinet, most likely as home secretary, with the current work and pensions minister, Alok Sharma, also expected to be around the top table. Junior housing minister Rishi Sunak is poised for promotion, as is former sports minister Tracey Crouch.
Most closely watched will be the job of chancellor, with former leadership contender Sajid Javid and early Johnson backer Liz Truss both in the frame. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, is also hoping to be generously rewarded for swinging behind Johnson after dropping out of the contest.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt shake hands after the result is announced.
Johnson faces a dilemma about how to deal with his defeated rival. Friends of Hunt were defiantly insisting on Tuesday night that he would not accept any job that smacked of demotion. They pointed out that the result was closer than David Cameron’s victory over David Davis in 2005, after which Davis remained in post as shadow home secretary.
However, Johnson was irked by some of Hunt’s personal attacks on him during the campaign, including the charge of cowardice over failing to appear in TV debates before the closing stages of the contest.
In his acceptance speech, Johnson said his task “at this pivotal moment in our history” would be to “reconcile two noble sets of instincts – between the deep desire for friendship and free trade and mutual support and security and defence between Britain and our European partners; and the simultaneous desire, equally heartfelt, for democratic self-government in this country.”
His attempt to strike a moderate tone was dealt a blow by Donald Trump, however, as the US president labelled the former mayor of London, “Britain Trump”. “He’s tough and he’s smart …They’re calling him Britain Trump. And people are saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there,” he said.
An early appointment to Johnson’s Downing Street team highlighted his tendency to court controversy. Labour seized on his decision to make Sky executive Andrew Griffith an adviser, after he lent the “Back Boris” campaign team his Westminster townhouse as an HQ.
“It’s blindingly obvious – Boris Johnson and his government will act only in the interest of the wealthy elite,” said the shadow cabinet office minister, Jon Trickett.
Speaking after the result was announced at a slick event in Westminster, where the audience was treated to a montage of former Tory leaders including Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, Johnson returned to his campaign promise to “deliver Brexit, unite the country and defeat Jeremy Corbyn”.
Saying “some wag” had pointed out that this made up the acronym “dud”, he joked that the “e for energise” had been left off the end. “I say to all the doubters: dude, we are going to energise the country!”
He insisted he would “get Brexit done by 31 October” with a “new spirit of can-do”, adding: “We are once again going to believe in ourselves and what we can achieve, and like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy-ropes of self-doubt and negativity.”
Later, after the new Tory leader addressed backbenchers at a noisy meeting of the 1922 Committee, Rachel Maclean, a member of the One Nation group of MPs, said they had been “love-bombed”.
“We need it, we do actually need that energising spirit,” she said. “I am a proud one-nation Conservative, we have all written to him and I do believe that is what he is in his heart and soul. That is what we are all looking for. Nobody wants an election, which would be so difficult for us as a party.”
Johnson answered a string of crowd-pleasing questions, according to those in the room, and some emerged still laughing at his quips. “He said he was going to insert high-speed broadband into every orifice of every home,” said one.
One comment from Johnson raised eyebrows: when he asked colleagues, using the conditional tense, “Wouldn’t it be great if we came out on 31 October?” One MP said: “That’s a total climbdown.”
But Baker, the avowed Eurosceptic who backed Johnson, said there was no question over the date and that MPs had cheered in the room when Johnson called for them to back leaving on 31 October.
“We are not picking over the entrails of the emphasis on each syllable,” he said. “We are leaving on the 31st. I’m supremely confident because Boris Johnson wants to be a great British prime minister and the only way he will be a great British prime minister is if we leave the EU on 31 October. Or we will be wiped out by the Brexit party.”
Several MPs said Johnson had ruled out an election before delivering Brexit, but stopped short of vowing there would no early election before 2022. Asked if MPs believed him, one said: “No.”
Johnson has already chosen Mark Spencer, the low-profile MP for Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, as his chief whip, a critical job in a hung parliament.
The former remainer is regarded as more conciliatory than Gavin Williamson or Iain Duncan Smith, key figures in Johnson’s campaign team who had also been rumoured to be in the running, and the appointment was welcomed by MPs from both wings of the party.
However, several senior cabinet ministers, including Philip Hammond, David Gauke and Rory Stewart, have confirmed that they will not serve under Johnson, choosing to continue their fight against a no-deal Brexit from the backbenches.
Not all MPs were charmed by Johnson’s pitch to the 1922 Committee. Keith Simpson, who rebelled for the first time in 22 years to back attempts to stop no deal last week, left the room early declaring “the circus has come to town”.
He said the country was facing “a tremendous crisis on every front … I don’t know whether Boris will be able to deal with it”. He said Johnson’s supporters were “sat in the body of the kirk, trying to look as if they are not ambitious little shits”.