PM plays down remarks about third term, as Tory critics point to ‘signs of a bunker mentality’
Boris Johnson appeared to backtrack on his pledge to cling onto power until the 2030s, as the prime minister faced claim he is “completely delusional” about winning three terms.
Speaking in Rwanda about leading the Conservatives into the next election, he said: “Will I win? Yes,” before adding: “At the moment I’m actively thinking about the third term.”
Asked at the G7 summit if he was being “delusional” about staying at No 10 until the next decade, the PM played down his remarks – suggesting he had been talking about the long-term ambitions of government.
“What I’m saying is this is a government that is getting on with delivering for the people of this country and we’ve got a huge amount to do,” he told reporters as the summit in Germany got under way.
No 10 had suggested the prime minister may have been joking with his remarks about a third term, but cabinet minister Brandon Lewis said on Sunday that the PM was serious.
The Northern Ireland secretary said Mr Johnson’s desire to look “long term” when it comes to his own leadership “has got to be a good thing” – praising the PM’s “zest”.
But Tory MPs hoping to see him ousted him before the next elections were scathing. One former supporter of the PM described his remarks as “completely delusional”.
Another MP from a “red wall” seat also told The Observer that he was “showing increasing signs of a bunker mentality, and that never ends well”.
Mr Johnson urged Tory MPs plotting to oust him not to focus on the issues he has “stuffed up” after his authority was further diminished by a Cabinet resignation.
And he insisted questions over his leadership were now settled after the loss of Wakefield and Tiverton, claiming that the “endless churn” of claims against him were “driving people nuts”.
But the attacks keep on coming. Damian Green, who chairs the One Nation caucus of Tory MPs, saying the government had to change “its style and content” – and called on cabinet members with leadership hopes to show their stripes.
Former minister David Davis also lashed out at the PM’s claim the only argument of “substance” from his critics was for the UK to return to the EU single market – arguing this is “plainly not true of me, or many others”.
Oliver Dowden resigned as Tory party co-chairman, saying he and Tory supporters were “distressed and disappointed by recent events” and telling the PM that “someone must take responsibility”.
Speaking ahead of a bilateral meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron on Sunday morning, Mr Johnson said the “golden rule” was to “focus on what we are doing”.
He said the immediate priorities were addressing the cost of living and “making sure that the UK continues to offer the kind of leadership around the world that I know our people want”.