Boris Johnson has declared that he wants to carry on as prime minister into the 2030s in a rebuke to Tory rebel MPs who are plotting to force another confidence vote in his leadership.
Speaking from a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda, the prime minister struck a defiant note after his Conservative party suffered two major by-election defeats this week.
Asked if he wanted to serve a second term to 2029 – the next election is expected in 2024 – he replied: “At the moment I am thinking actively about the third term and you know, what could happen then. . . this is the mid-2030s. ”
The comments are likely to infuriate many of the 148 Conservative MPs who unsuccessfully tried to oust Johnson from Downing Street in a vote of confidence earlier this month. The prime minister survived the vote by 59 to 41 per cent.
Earlier in the day Johnson insisted he would not change or undergo a “psychological transformation” after a leading Conservative party figure quit over the by-election results.
Oliver Dowden, the former Tory party chair, resigned within minutes of the results of Wakefield in West Yorkshire and Tiverton in Devon on Friday, publishing a letter that implicitly criticized Johnson’s leadership.
Johnson told the BBC Radio 4 Today program on Saturday morning that he would instead concentrate on issues such as the cost of living and the war in Ukraine. “If you’re saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, I think our listeners would know that it isn’t going to happen,” he said.
He added that every government is “buffeted” by disappointing by-election results in the middle of a parliament.
The loss of Tiverton to the Liberal Democrats – after holding a majority of 24,239 – has left many Tory MPs believing they are at risk of losing their seats.
Wakefield’s shift to Labour also puts the “Red Wall” of former Labour seats Johnson seized in the 2019 election under threat.
The prime minister suggested the government could carry out a further fuel duty cut if petrol prices remain high, and said that the contentious policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda would eventually work.
The Johnson premiership has been buffeted by “partygate”, when workplace gatherings that broke Covid lockdown rules led to more than 100 fines, and by the cost of living crisis. On Friday senior figures including Michael Howard, a former Tory party leader, called for him to quit.
Johnson suffered a vote of confidence earlier this month, even though 148 MPs voted to remove him. Downing Street is braced for rebel Tory MPs to make a concerted effort to change Conservative party rules which prevent a second challenge within 12 months.
The executive of the 1922 backbench committee, which sets the rules, will shortly hold elections for key posts. Some rebels, including backbencher Andrew Bridgen, are planning to stand in a bid to change the 12-month rule, but the current leadership is not keen.
“Changing the rules at half time, because you are 1-0 down can’t be fair,” said one MP on the committee.
The Times revealed on Saturday that Johnson had planned to build a £ 150,000 treehouse on the grounds of Chequers – the prime minister’s country house – but was forced to abandon the idea after police raised security concerns.
The newspaper revealed that there were discussions about Lord Brownlow, a Tory donor, funding the project. Brownlow was previously embroiled in a scandal over the refurbishment of Johnson’s Downing Street flat.