Politics

Boris Johnson 'was made prime minister to defeat Jeremy Corbyn'

Jeremy Corbyn was deemed such a threat in 2019 that Boris Johnson was made prime minister to defeat him, a senior Conservative has said.

Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail against Boris Johnson in 2019

Jeremy Corbyn on the campaign trail against Boris Johnson in 2019. Image: Jeremy Corbyn/Flickr

A senior Tory MP has admitted that Boris Johnson was only made prime minister in 2019 because they feared the threat of a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Arch-Brexiteer Steve Baker, who helped bring down Theresa May over disagreements with her Brexit policy, told the Radio 4 Today programme that Brexiteers faced a choice between Johnson and now-deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, but the decision was made on who would fare better against the Labour leader.

“Boris was made prime minister because he was the best possible chance of defeating Jeremy Corbyn,” Baker said, “which we thought ought not to be difficult, but it turned out in 2017 we nearly didn’t do it and handed power to him.”

Corbyn became Labour leader in 2015 and his proposals to reverse the damaging years of austerity under the Conservative party through nationalising public services and taxing the rich were hugely popular among large sections of the country.

His 2017 election campaign mobilised a large grassroots support under the slogan “for the many, not the few” and ultimately led to then-Prime Minister Theresa May losing her parliamentary majority and resigning in 2019, when Johnson took charge.

Corbyn’s leadership was dogged by accusations of antisemitism within the Labour party, however, and researchers found press coverage would often misrepresent his policies and amplify allegations against him.

“So we made [Johnson] prime minister,” Baker continued, “and I was there in the rooms because we had in the end a choice as Brexiteers between Dominic Raab, who I respect immensely, and Boris Johnson, both of whom would have delivered our exit from the EU.

“But Boris was vastly more likely to defeat Corbyn so we made him prime minister.”

Johnson succeeded in defeating Corbyn in the 2019 election but his appointment by senior Conservative MPs as party leader was dependent “on a range of promises”, Baker said, ” and he should have succeeded, he hasn’t, it’s his fault”.

Johnson’s premiership was dominated by a mishandling of the pandemic in its early years with a steadily growing outcry over sexual misconduct by Tory MPs while in office, rule breaking, and accusations of corruption within the Conservative party.

Calls for Johnson’s resignation began with the Partygate scandal of heavy drinking and socialising in Downing Street while the UK was in lockdown. They have since intensified across 2022 through a vote of no confidence, lost by-elections, and sex scandals, culminating in more than 50 resignations from government in less than 48 hours.

Johnson is expected to resign by the end of Thursday but is rumoured to want to stay on as a caretaker prime minister while the Conservatives elect a new leader.

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