Supporters of Boris Johnson are backing the former prime minister to make an extraordinary political comeback following the dramatic resignation of Liz Truss.
Just six weeks after he left No 10 for the final time, forced out by his own MPs after one scandal too many, allies are urging him to run again for a second shot at the Tory crown.
If he does, he is likely to find himself up against Rishi Sunak – the former chancellor who is blamed by Mr Johnson’s supporters for bringing him down – and the Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt.
Such a move would be highly divisive within the Conservative Party, with reports some MPs could resign the whip and sit as independents rather than serve under Mr Johnson.
But his supporters argue that he alone of the potential candidates to be the new prime minister has won a general election and has a mandate from the British public.
In order to do so however, he will need to secure the nominations of 100 of the party’s 357 MPs – a target which some at Westminster believe may be beyond him.
There was no immediate word from Mr Johnson – who was thought to be holidaying with his family in the Caribbean – on his intentions.
However diehard loyalist Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, said she had spoken to him following Ms Truss’s resignation and hinted strongly that he was preparing to run.
“He is a known winner and that is certainly who I’m putting my name against because I want us to win the general election. Having a winner in place is what the party needs to survive,” she told Sky News.
Veteran backbencher Sir Roger Gale, a long-time critic of Mr Johnson, however warned that if he succeeds he could be met with a wave of resignations by Tory MPs.
“I think that there would be people, indeed like myself, who would find ourselves in the awful position of having to resign the Conservative whip,” he told Times Radio.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who called for an immediate general election, said the potential return of a man deemed “unfit for office” by his own MPs “adds insult to injury” for voters.
For critics, a comeback would be particularly problematic as Mr Johnson still faces an investigation by the Commons Privileges Committee over claims he lied to Parliament over lockdown parties in Downing Street, which could potentially see him expelled as an MP.
As well as Mr Sunak and Ms Mordaunt, some MPs would like Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to stand, although he has given no indication he intends to do so.
Other names in the frame include Suella Braverman, who was forced to quit as home secretary by Ms Truss, and International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch – both of whom stood in the last contest – although they may struggle to get the nominations.
Under the rules set out by Sir Graham Brady – the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee – and party chairman Sir Jake Berry, nominations will close at 2pm on Monday.
The first ballot of MPs will then be held between 3.30pm and 5.30pm on Monday – if there are three candidates with the required number of nominations the loser will be eliminated.
Once there are two candidates remaining, an indicative vote will be held so that the party membership know which is the preferred option among MPs.
Members will be able to take part in an online vote to choose their next leader and the country’s prime minister with the contest due to conclude by October 28.
The rules appear designed to encourage the candidate who finishes second to stand aside for the winner, ensuring the new leader has the support of the majority.
But few believe that if that is Mr Johnson – who remains hugely popular among ordinary members – he would do so.
Tory grandee Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, however, said it was important that the new leader commanded as much support as possible among the MPs.
“It is the Members of Parliament who have to work with a prime minister and I think it is very, very important that as many Members of Parliament are satisfied with the candidate,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell has said the Tory politicians needed to stop “establishing tribal gangs who support a particular leader so that they can get a job in the Cabinet or Government regardless of their abilities”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Mitchell said: “This unedifying way of conducting politics is harming the business of government and indeed the country.”
Ms Truss’s resignation on Thursday after just 44 days in office brings to an end the shortest premiership in British history.
It followed weeks of financial and political turmoil in the wake of then chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s calamitous £45 billion mini-budget giveaway which led to a collapse in support for Ms Truss among Tory MPs.