Boris Johnson has been campaigning in a number of Red Wall and other Tory seats alongside his MP allies in a move that will spark rumours he is still eyeing a political comeback.
Marginal and safe seats visited by the former prime minister include those held by some of his backbench allies, fuelling speculation he is shoring up his base in Parliament for a possible run at the leadership.
MPs loyal to Mr Johnson believe Rishi Sunak has fought off questions over his own premiership for now, after making significant progress on a post-Brexit deal, small boats and the economy.
But Mr Johnson’s comeback prospects have been kept alive by rumours that the Commons Privileges Committee could find that he “recklessly” misled parliament over Partygate, an outcome which carries a lesser penalty than wilfully misleading the Commons and would not result in a recall petition in his constituency.
Allies of Mr Johnson believe this finding would not be a bar to him returning to the political frontline, although they stressed there was currently no talk of a comeback because Mr Sunak was performing strongly.
However, the Prime Minister could face fresh questions over his leadership if the Conservatives do worse than expected in the local elections on 4 May, even though they are already starting from a low base.
Sources close to Mr Johnson did not deny a report in the Daily Telegraph that the former prime minister would accept the “reckless” finding by the committee.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “Mr Johnson was pleased to give oral evidence to the committee and will study the findings when those are brought forward in due course.”
In the months since leaving Downing Street, the former prime minister has visited the Conservative-Labour marginal of Derby North, held by Amanda Solloway, the safe seat of Derbyshire Dales where his close ally Sarah Dines is the MP, and Stourbridge which could see a Labour gain in a landslide in 2024.
He has also campaigned with Tory MPs in Red Wall seats including Dudley North, held by Marco Longhi, and Bassetlaw, where his ally Brendan Clarke-Smith is the local MP.
A Conservative MP and ally of Mr Johnson said of the possible outcome of “recklessly” misleading the House: “It may be bad for the reputation and it will be a telling off, but it is something which he can move on from.
“This will save face on both sides – the committee can claim that they have found something, he can make an apology, both sides can say they have won.”
Asked whether the reckless finding could pave the way for a possible comeback for Mr Johnson, the ally said: “Things need to go badly for Rishi before there is any talk of a comeback. But yes, that would allow a comeback.
“I don’t think the public really care. For Boris to come back something needs to go wrong for Rishi. I don’t think a finding of ‘reckless’ would go against him.”