Boris Johnson faced a backlash from Conservative MPs on Sunday after declaring he wants to carry on as prime minister into the 2030s.
Speaking in Rwanda at a Commonwealth heads of government summit, Johnson said on Saturday he was “thinking actively” about the third term of his government.
Asked if he wanted to serve a second term to 2029, given the next general election is expected in 2024, Johnson replied: “At the moment I am thinking actively about the third term and you know, what could happen then . . . this is the mid-2030s.”
Johnson’s leadership of the Conservative party was plunged into fresh turmoil on Friday after the Tories suffered crushing defeats in parliamentary by-elections in Wakefield in West Yorkshire and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon.
The results were seen partly as a verdict on Johnson’s conduct in the partygate scandal. In April he became the first serving British prime minister found to have committed a criminal offence after police fined him for attending a Downing Street birthday party during a Covid-19 lockdown.
Johnson survived a vote of no confidence in his leadership this month, but 41 per cent of Conservative MPs refused to back him.
He said at the Commonwealth summit that would he concentrate on helping Britons with the cost of living crisis and proceeding with his planned reforms, but also insisted he would not “undergo some sort of psychological transformation”.
Over the weekend, several Conservative MPs who are critics of Johnson voiced concern that his latest comments would only inflame relations with the parliamentary party.
“Johnson has monumental faith in himself but has lost touch with reality,” said one senior Tory MP. “He needs to be brought back down to earth and soon.”
Another MP said Johnson’s focus ought to be on delivering for voters now rather than preparing for scenarios in several years time. “We can’t go on like this,” he added. “We keep promising and promising but not giving our voters anything.”
A third MP said Johnson’s comments could alienate the public. “For those members of the electorate who dislike him, it merely galvanises their resolve to vote against him and therefore the Conservative party,” he added.
Johnson struck a defiant note when pressed on his comments about serving three terms as prime minister.
Asked whether his remarks were delusional, he replied at a G7 summit in Bavaria: “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.”
Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland secretary, said Johnson was serious about serving three terms. “We often as politicians, particularly when you’re in government, get criticised for making decisions looking at the next week, the next election, the next year, and not looking long term,” he told the BBC.
Immediately after the by-election results, Conservative party chair Oliver Dowden resigned, saying someone “must take responsibility” and the Tories could not continue with “business as usual”.
Some Conservative MPs are expected to push for a second no-confidence vote in Johnson, even though party rules overseen by the 1922 committee of backbench Tories stipulate another ballot cannot happen for one year.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said last week he would stand in elections to the 1922 executive in the coming days on a manifesto of changing the rules to allow another vote this year.