Boris Johnson delivered a withering attack on Rishi Sunak as he quit Parliament, saying there was a need for a “properly Conservative government”.
In a rallying call to his followers, Mr Johnson, who hinted at a comeback even as he walked away from the Commons, hit out at repeated tax hikes and a failure to deliver on the opportunities of Brexit.
But the former prime minister’s strongly-worded resignation statement made clear that he has little sympathy for the predicament he has handed his successor, with Mr Sunak blamed by Mr Johnson and his allies for ousting him from No 10.
But he defended his record and took aim at Mr Sunak’s policy agenda.
“That gap has now massively widened,” Mr Johnson said.
“Just a few years after winning the biggest majority in almost half a century, that majority is now clearly at risk.”
The average poll shares for the week ending July 10 2022 when Mr Johnson announced his resignation as prime minister had the Tories on 30%, 12 points behind Labour on 42%.
The seven-day average for June 9 2023 had a 13-point gap between Labour on 43% and the Tories on 30%, although the gap has been wider than that in recent months.
Mr Johnson said: “Our party needs urgently to recapture its sense of momentum and its belief in what this country can do.
“We need to show how we are making the most of Brexit and we need in the next months to be setting out a pro-growth and pro-investment agenda.
“We need to cut business and personal taxes – and not just as pre-election gimmicks – rather than endlessly putting them up.
“We must not be afraid to be a properly Conservative government.
“Why have we so passively abandoned the prospect of a free trade deal with the US? Why have we junked measures to help people into housing or to scrap EU directives or to promote animal welfare?
“We need to deliver on the 2019 manifesto, which was endorsed by 14 million people.
“We should remember that more than 17 million voted for Brexit.”
Mr Johnson said he was leaving Parliament “at least for now”, suggesting he does not believe his political career is over.
It had long been suspected he could abandon Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where he had a majority of 7,210 in 2019, in favour of a safer seat.
His resignation came just hours after leading ally Nadine Dorries resigned her Mid Bedfordshire seat, which has a majority of more than 24,000, fuelling speculation that Mr Johnson could target that safer constituency for a comeback.
But both seats will be heavily targeted by opposition parties seeking to deal a blow to Mr Sunak ahead of the general election expected next year.
Defeat in either seat would pile pressure on Mr Sunak to change course, with allies of Mr Johnson likely to be among the most vocal critics.