Tories accused of ‘desperate new low’ as Boris Johnson returns at 11th hour to save Sunak campaign

Boris Johnson has made a last ditch appeal for voters to get behind the Conservatives, appearing at a rally alongside Rishi Sunak just two days before polls open.

The former prime minister heeded a call for help from Mr Sunak and gave a speech to the party faithful on Tuesday night. But the move was branded a “desperate new low” by opponents, as the Conservatives attempt a last-minute rally before polling day on Thursday.

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Mr Johnson said he was happy to come back (PA Wire)
Mr Johnson said he was happy to come back (PA Wire)

Mr Johnson took aim at Sir Keir Starmer in the speech, warning against the prospect of a Labour supermajority “pregnant with horrors”. And he warned Conservative voters flirting with Nigel Farage’s Reform UK to think again, dubbing the arch-Brexiteer a “Kremlin crawler”.

In a 10-minute speech, his first in-person appearance of the general election, Mr Johnson said: “If you feel you have a few thousand pounds to spare, then vote Labour on Thursday.

“If you want uncontrolled immigration and mandatory wokery and pointless kowtowing to Brussels again, then go right ahead, make my day and vote for Starmer.”

He added: “None of us can sit back as a Labour government prepares to use a sledgehammer majority to destroy so much of what we have achieved.”

Mr Sunak thanked his predecessor profusely for finally showing up to support the Tory re-election effort, but the two did not appear on-stage together during the event.

Mr Johnson railed against the prospect of a Labour government (PA Wire)
Mr Johnson railed against the prospect of a Labour government (PA Wire)

And Mr Johnson only mentioned Mr Sunak once in the speech, choosing instead to focus on warnings about the Tories’ opponents rather than the party’s achievements in government.

The speech sparked a backlash from serving minister Huw Merriman, who hinted he may no longer vote for the party after Mr Johnson’s return. Posting on X immediately after the former PM’s speech, rail minister Mr Merriman said: “Given my refusal to support this man and to then welcome a change from his leadership when the wheels of public and Parliamentary tolerance finally fell off, I’m not sure how this pitches for my vote.”

Sir Keir mocked the return of Mr Johnson, suggesting that the next trick up Mr Sunak’s sleeve would be to bring Liz Truss onto the campaign trail.

“I’m only assuming that some time about lunchtime today there’ll be a joint press conference with Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak on economic stability for the country going forward, I suspect that’s what’s coming next,” he said.

Asked if he is worried that Mr Johnson’s return to politics will spark a late surge in Tory votes, the Labour leader said: “No, I’m not worried in the slightest, having argued for six weeks that they’re chaotic and divided, to bring out exhibit A, with 24 hours to go, just vindicated the argument I’ve been making.

“I think Rishi started campaigning with (David) Cameron at his side, I don’t think that worked so very well. Then he borrowed Liz Truss’ playbook and put unfunded commitments in his manifesto, and then he wheeled out Boris Johnson last night, it makes my case for me.”

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper described Mr Johnson’s appearance as “a desperate new low” for Mr Sunak’s campaign.

“This is an insult to everyone who made heart-breaking sacrifices during the pandemic,” she said.

“Rishi Sunak has reached a desperate new low, turning to a man who discredited the office of prime minister and lied to the country time after time.

“It is time to boot out this tired and sleaze-ridden Conservative party, and elect Liberal Democrat MPs who will stand up for their communities.”

Mr Sunak said the Tory party was ‘united’ (PA Wire)
Mr Sunak said the Tory party was ‘united’ (PA Wire)

Mr Johnson, who led the Tories to a landslide victory in 2019 against a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, told cheering activists: “Reform can achieve nothing in this election except to usher in the most left-wing Labour government since the war with a huge majority, and we must not let it happen.

“Don’t let the Putinistas deliver the Corbynistas. Don’t let Putin’s pet parrots give this entire country psittacosis – which is a disease you get by the way from cosying up to pet parrots.”

Mr Johnson added: “There’s only one thing to do – vote Conservative on Thursday my friends and I know you will. I know you will.”

The former prime minister also claimed that it was “thanks to Brexit” that we are able to control our own borders” after praising the audience for helping to deliver it.

His appearance was at one of the Conservative Party’s final campaign events before polling stations open their doors to voters between 7am and 10pm on Thursday.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer downplayed suggestions of a landslide (PA Wire)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer downplayed suggestions of a landslide (PA Wire)

Mr Sunak addressed the crowds after Mr Johnson, hailing the “united Conservative family” and claiming just 130,000 voters could help stem his party’s predicted losses.

Speaking at the rally the Prime Minister said: “Isn’t it great to have our Conservative family united, my friends?”

Mr Sunak added: “Now, it suits lots of people to say that the result of this election is a foregone conclusion but I know that it is not.

“Just 130,000 people switching their vote, giving us their support, is what it will take to deny Labour that supermajority they want. Every single vote matters.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer refused to entertain suggestions he will lead his party to a landslide victory at one of his final visits.

He told campaigners: “People are saying the polls predict the future – they don’t predict the future, every single vote counts, every single vote has to be earned and in places like this it’ll probably go down to a few hundred either way and therefore the worst thing for people who want change is to think ‘job done’ and ‘we don’t need to vote because there’s going to be a majority in any event’.

“It isn’t ‘job done’.”

Sir Keir, who is set to visit England, Wales and Scotland on the final day of campaigning, added: “Given that the country is pretty broken at the moment, a lot of things aren’t working, there’s a big job for us to do if we come in to serve and we need a strong mandate for that.

“We need to know the country genuinely wants this change and that we’re sort of all prepared to say this is the change that we want and it gives a real strong mandate to a government to say ‘we’ve asked you to change things, you need to get on with it’.”