Boris Johnson’s bid for Downing Street will be bankrolled by one of the country’s richest hedge fund managers, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Billionaire Crispin Odey has told the former Foreign Secretary that he can count on his financial backing to run for No 10 if Theresa May is toppled over her Brexit policy. ‘I think Boris would be excellent once he became leader,’ Mr Odey told this newspaper. ‘We all know his weaknesses. But his strengths derive from those weaknesses. He makes quick decisions.’
The City titan’s deep pockets will be welcomed by Mr Johnson, who has been overtaken as the leadership favourite by his former Cabinet colleague David Davis. Both men have been jockeying for position since resigning from the Cabinet in July over Theresa May’s Chequers plan, but it is Mr Davis who has been most energetically courting Tory MPs in recent weeks.
Hedge fund manager Crispin Odey poses for a photo at his office in London
Mr Odey’s declaration of support for Mr Johnson follows months of speculation in Downing Street and Tory HQ over the identity of Tory donors being wooed by Mr Johnson. Mr Odey, an Oxford-educated bon viveur who has donated a total of more than £1 million to the Tory Party and the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign, is the first May benefactor to come out for Mr Johnson.
He said: ‘It is going to be very difficult for him to establish hegemony at Westminster. But who else is there? We can’t go on with May.’
Asked if he had discussed Mr Johnson’s leadership prospects with him, Mr Odey said: ‘I have, but it is going to be very hard for him because he doesn’t have much support in the Commons.’
The 59-year-old believes Mr Johnson’s best strategy is to ignore his lukewarm following in Westminster and harness support among Tory members and voters.
He added: ‘We know that the politicians hate Boris. But then all the people hate politicians.’
Mr Odey argued that Mrs May’s position was untenable, despite last week’s public show of loyalty from Tory backbenchers and her record of pulling back from the brink of endless leadership crises and attempted coups.
Boris Johnson has the backing of Crispin Odey
‘What she has sold to Europe, she cannot sell to her party,’ he said.
‘I give her about a 20 per cent chance of making it to Brexit in March. How many times did Julius Caesar go to the Senate before being assassinated? Beware the Ides of March.’
Asked if he had started donating to a Boris leadership campaign, Mr Odey replied: ‘Not yet…’
After their double resignation, allies of Mr Davis initially tried to persuade Mr Johnson’s backers that Mr Davis should become ‘caretaker’ leader until after Brexit, at which point Mr Johnson could enter a formal contest to succeed him. Mr Johnson’s supporters said they were sceptical that Mr Davis would stick to his side of the bargain. Mr Davis upped the ante after Mrs May indicated earlier this month that she was prepared to extend the transition period after Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, urging his former Cabinet colleagues to block the plan.
In last week’s Mail on Sunday, he published an effective leadership manifesto, in which he called for a more militant approach to Brussels and threatened to bar EU planes from UK airspace in the event of a ‘no deal’ emergency.
Sources say that Mr Davis’s aides were ringing around Whitehall last week to check that they had up-to-date mobile numbers for Ministers so that they could be contacted for support in a contest.
An attempt by pro-Brexit Tory MPs to bring Mrs May’s leadership to crisis point last week backfired when they briefed that she should ‘bring her own noose’ to a ‘show trial’ of backbenchers at a meeting of the 1922 Committee and was entering ‘the killing zone’.
Widespread revulsion over the lurid language forced many of the plotters to back off, leading to an orchestrated show of unity at Wednesday’s gathering. But with Downing Street struggling to devise a negotiating strategy which avoids a hard border with Northern Ireland without keeping the UK inside some form of customs union, Tory MPs are still in revolt.
Mrs May faces fresh criticism today from former Tory Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who describes the potential transition plan as ‘purgatory’.
In an article for this newspaper, Mr Whittingdale says: ‘Our Government has completely lost control of the negotiations and has been outmanoeuvred by the EU at every stage.’
He adds: ‘I fully understand the anger of my constituents who cannot understand why two years after they voted to leave we are still arguing about how to do so and have already agreed that we will not properly deliver Brexit for at least four years… While we’re in this purgatory, we will go on being subject to EU rules and forced to pay tens of billions into their budget while we have no say over how our taxpayers’ money is spent.’
Mr Odey has told friends of his ambitions to become a power-broker in Westminster. He is on course to be Europe’s best-performing hedge fund manager this year – and he will add further millions to his fortune if Brexit causes a crash in the pound.
Worth more than £1 billion with his wife Nichola Pease before the 2016 EU referendum, he donated more than £870,000 to the pro-Brexit campaign but bet incorrectly that the result would cause market chaos – contributing to a slump in his fortune to around £750 million.
But after a surge in his investments in Sky TV and oil stocks – and bets against struggling high street stores such as Debenhams – his Odey European Fund is up by more than a quarter so far this year.
He is betting that sterling, which has already fallen since the referendum, will slump further ahead of Brexit in March. Brexit critics would argue that it is therefore not surprising that he is not worried about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.
‘If we walked away from the EU without a deal it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world,’ he told The Mail on Sunday.
‘Trade tariffs are much lower than they were back in the 1970s, when they were something like 40 per cent on cars.’
After leaving Oxford, Mr Odey, who enjoys fishing and shooting, was married to Rupert Murdoch’s eldest daughter, Prudence, before marrying Nichola Pease, a member of one of the founding families of Barclays Bank. The couple have three children.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly insisted that his aim is to change the Chequers policy, not unseat Mrs May. His spokesman declined to comment.
Brexiteers invoke spirit of Henry V
The Prime Minister may have won the latest Brexit battle, but for her Tory critics the real war appears to be just beginning.
Within hours of Theresa May emerging unscathed from a showdown with her own MPs last week, arch-Brexiteer Tories invoked the spirit of Shakespeare’s Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt to stiffen their resolve for the fights ahead to deliver what they see as a genuine Brexit.
Steve Baker, who quit as a Brexit Minister in protest at Mrs May’s Chequers deal, sought to boost colleagues’ morale by posting the entire ‘St Crispin’s Day’ speech on a Tory pro-Brexit WhatsApp group – including the immortal ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’.
Mr Baker began by reminding MPs that that very day, October 25, was the feast day of the saint memorably referred to by Henry V in his rousing address before the historic victory in 1415 over a French army four times the size of the English. He wrote: ‘Good morning and Happy St Crispin’s Day!
Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, Brexiteers have invoked the spirit of the character played by Hiddleston
‘That means it’s time for Henry V and one of the most inspiring passages in the English language.’ The former RAF engineer recalled the context of Henry’s stirring address – the ‘fearful odds’ facing the English.
The theme was taken up by fellow Brexiteer Owen Paterson, who tweeted: ‘Today is St Crispin’s Day!’ together with a video of Laurence Olivier’s rendition of the monologue in the 1944 film.
Mr Baker, a key member of the Tories’ European Research Group, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But one like-minded MP said: ‘I found Steve’s message really stirring.’
However, one MP observed cruelly: ‘Agincourt was a great victory but the 100 Years’ War went on for another 38 years. ‘I hope Brexit doesn’t take that long.
‘And besides, October 25 is also the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade.’
Steve Baker (pictured) is a key member of the Tories’ European Research Group
This was only part of the words that Steve Baker had sent round to colleagues