Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak could strike deal to avoid leadership challenge - allies

Boris Johnson could agree not to challenge Rishi Sunak's leadership after the local elections in exchange for a safe seat, close allies have claimed.

The former prime minister "will be in a strong position assuming we get hammered in May", the friend said. "He can go to Rishi and say 'give me a seat in exchange for good behaviour'."

Support among MPs for Mr Johnson to oust Mr Sunak amounts to "only two dozen, maybe three dozen at most", the ally said. "We would just look ridiculous if we changed PM again. Most people get that."

But the former Conservative leader is unlikely to quit politics. "He would find it very hard to give it up," said the source.

Asked if Mr Johnson would contest the next general election, the friend said: "He won't stand in Uxbridge."

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson responded: "This is untrue. Boris Johnson is fully supporting the government and is standing in Uxbridge and South Ruislip at the next election."

But Mr Johnson's 7,210 majority in his west London constituency means he is vulnerable to being unseated by Labour.

Rishi Sunak could either offer Mr Johnson the constituency of a retiring parliamentarian, or give an MP the chance to swap their seat in the Commons in exchange for a place in the House of Lords.

However the former PM's significant support base in parliament has fractured, according to a once-loyal minister. "Boris isn't coming back," they said. "I will do everything I can to stop it."

"In July for the first time I saw real malevolence. He's willing to ride over any convention to get his way."

The minister was also critical of one of Mr Johnson's most outspoken backers: "Stop calling Nadine Dorries. Block her f***ing number. She's a terrorist".

Since leaving Number 10, Mr Johnson has focused on issues he believes are central to his legacy including Ukraine, Brexit and levelling up. He has also earned over £1m in corporate speeches.

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Mr Johnson's contributions from the backbenches include constituency issues such as Hillingdon Hospital, Uxbridge police station and the housing policies of Sadiq Khan, his successor as Mayor of London.

In recent weeks speculation has mounted that the former prime minister is interested in the safe Conservative seat of Derbyshire Dales.

He decided not to stand against Mr Sunak after the resignation of Liz Truss, even though Mr Johnson had reached the threshold of 100 backers needed to contest the leadership.

Mr Johnson fuelled speculation about a possible return during his farewell speech as prime minister in September last year.

"Like Cincinnatus, I am returning to my plough and I will be offering this government nothing but the most fervent support", he said, a nod to a Roman statesman who later returned to serve a second term.

Sky News has contacted the Conservative Party for comment.