Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of a hardline Brexit bloc and one of the driving forces behind a push to remove British Prime Minister Theresa May, has hinted that he would support fellow Conservative politician Boris Johnson as a future leader of the party.
Rees-Mogg, the leader of the European Research Group, a faction of Conservative members of Parliament who have been staunchly opposed to May’s Brexit deal, praised Johnson as a potential Conservative party leader in an interview on Sky News program “Sophy Ridge on Sunday.”
“I think very highly of Boris Johnson,” Rees-Mogg said, arguing that the Brexit question aside, Johnson was a moderate figure among Conservatives who “could unite the party and win an election.”
Johnson, the former mayor of London, has been a frequent thorn in May’s side, repeatedly stating his opposition to her Brexit plan and resigning as foreign secretary last year over her strategy.
He has been linked with the top job many times and looked set to make a run in 2016, before Michael Gove, who was Johnson’s campaign manager at the time, withdrew his support in dramatic fashion and declared his own candidacy. Johnson is popular with grassroots party members and has long held leadership ambitions.
May has told Conservative MPs that if they back her deal, she’ll step down as Conservative Party leader, and it seems that members of her party are already jockeying for her spot.
In a statement on Saturday, May said that the only way of passing her rejected Brexit deal is with support from the opposition Labour Party, further roiling hardliners in her Conservative Party like Rees-Mogg.
Her statement is an admission that her previous strategy of attempting to win over the hardline elements of her own party has failed. It’s a high-risk move that could cost her support for the deal from her own side, but, given her pledge to resign, she no longer needs the support.
Britain is staring down the barrel toward April 12, when it will leave the European Union without a deal if May is unable to secure a delay.
The Prime Minister is due to meet EU leaders at a special summit in Brussels on Wednesday, where she will ask for a short extension to the Brexit process, to June 30.
May’s strategy of reaching out to Labour has caused fury within her own party: Two ministers resigned from the government earlier this week, and party members posted pictures on social media tearing up their membership cards.
Speaking on Sky News, Rees-Mogg also praised Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd as “a first class intellect,” suggesting that he might support a Boris-Rudd ticket.
British broadsheet the Financial Times reported on Friday that Rudd looked poised to play “kingmaker” in a leadership race, while The Sunday Times suggested she was already preparing to back Johnson at the urging of MPs who are pushing for the alliance they’ve dubbed “BAmber.”
The Mail on Sunday referred to Boris and Rudd as the “dream ticket,” with one MP telling the British paper: “Amber would take half the party with her, while Boris is the man you need to beat (opposition Labour party leader Jeremy) Corbyn at a General Election.”
British bookies are already declaring Johnson the favorite to take over from May. According to London-based Ladbrokes gambling company, the odds on Johnson becoming the next prime minister are 5/1.
CNN’s Zahid Mahmood and Matt Wells contributed to this report in London.