A campaign to force the Tory Party to give its members a vote on whether Boris Johnson should have been forced to resign has nearly enough support for a rule change.
The party has confirmed 8,700 Tory party members have signed a petition organised by the ConservativePost website and Lord Cruddas, the former party treasurer, demanding a veto on whether to accept Mr Johnson’s resignation.
The figure is short of the 10,000 threshold that could force the party to act under its constitution.
It means that if a further 1,300 validated members sign the petition, the party will have to look at changing its constitution and allow a ballot on whether to accept Mr Johnson’s resignation.
This would potentially throw the existing leadership election into chaos, as any ballot will almost certainly take place after the winner has been announced a week on Monday.
Lord Cruddas told The Telegraph: “I believe it is only a matter of time before the 10,000 threshold is met. We have had 250 new signatures in the last 24 hours that look legitimate.
“The ballot will still go ahead regardless of who is elected. We want a simple ballot on whether to accept Johnson’s resignation regardless of who the new leader is.
“If members vote not to accept Johnson’s resignation, that would leave the new leader in an untenable position. They would have been elected against the wishes of members.”
Lord Cruddas and the website ConservativePost launched the campaign for a members’ vote on whether Mr Johnson should resign last month.
In all, 20,000 people signed the online petition demanding that “Boris Johnson be added to the ballot as an option for the members to vote upon in the forthcoming election”.
After several thousand names were discounted – including hundreds of joke names like “Vladimir Putin” and those without membership numbers, some 14,000 of the signatures were submitted to the party at the end of July.
The party replied to Lord Cruddas this week to tell him that it had been “thorough in checking all the information provided to us” digitally and manually.
It told Lord Cruddas: “The threshold of no fewer than 10,000 signatures has not been met… We are willing and able to confirm that you will still require 1,300 signatures to meet this threshold.”
On Thursday, the Conservative Party was digging its heels in and insisting it will not change the rules “retrospectively” to allow members to vote on Mr Johnson’s future.
Its spokesman said: “If a petition with 10,000 signatures from members was received, we would follow the processes as laid out in our constitution.
“No such petition has been received. Neither the constitution or rules of this leadership election can be changed retrospectively.”
The party’s constitution states that “any proposals to amend the constitution may be initiated by… a petition, delivered to the chairman of the board, signed by no less than 10,000 party members”.
If the 10,000 threshold is passed, then the change has to be approved by two-thirds of the party’s “constitutional college”, made up of activists and MPs.
What Mr Johnson will make of this is unclear. Lord Cruddas has claimed that the Prime Minister told him last month that he “does not want to resign” and wishes he could “wipe away” his departure.
However, a senior Tory source close to the Prime Minister said when those comments were reported: “He does not support any campaign to put him on the leadership ballot and will back whoever is the next leader.”