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Tory MPs turn on Boris Johnson after he mocks calls to change style and says criticism ‘doesn’t matter’

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Boris Johnson has fuelled Conservative anger that he is leading them to electoral disaster by rejecting calls to change style, while insisting much of the criticism of him “doesn’t matter”.

Senior Tories spoke out after the prime minister mocked the idea of him undergoing a “psychological transformation” to recover from disastrous by-election defeats, saying: “That’s not going to happen.”

In a defiant interview to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday, he instead dismissed leading Conservative figures urging him to quit – including former leaders Michael Howard and William Hague – arguing they have no alternative policies.

Mr Johnson refused to accept the Partygate scandal lay behind the defeats and said: “As a leader, you have to try to distinguish between criticism that really matters and the criticism that doesn’t.”

He followed that with further claims he wants to stay in power into the 2030s, and fight the next two general elections.

Asked by journalists at the British high commissioner’s residence in Kigali if he will lead his party into the next election, he said: “Will I win? Yes.”

“At the moment I’m actively thinking about the third term and what could happen then, but I will review that when I get to it,” he added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured in Rwanda on Saturday, has alarmed his Tory critics further (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured in Rwanda on Saturday, has alarmed his Tory critics further (PA Wire)

On Sunday Johnson appeared to backtrack when asked if he was ‘delusional’ by a reporter at the G7 summit in Germany, replying that “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,”

But alarmed Tory MPs told The Independent that the earlier comments dismissing criticism had underlined the reasons why voters had turned their back on the party in Tiverton & Honiton and in Wakefield last week.

Alicia Kearns, a member of the 2019 general election intake, said: “It would be a mistake to dismiss the by-election results, and a greater one to seek to blame MPs who were forced to act in order to uphold our conservative values of integrity and rule of law.

“Voters sent a clear message, that their sacrifices were treated with contempt and that they will not vote Conservative while that remains the case.”

Bob Neill, the respected chair of the Commons justice committee, said: “The leadership of the Conservative Party is a leasehold, not a freehold. Wise leaders never take that for granted.”

One senior Tory summed up the party’s plight as “no change, no chance”, adding: “I am not sure shrugging off valid criticism as not mattering is either sensible or likely to instil confidence in colleagues who are wondering can he now accept his mistakes and change direction.”

Tory MP Alicia Kearns said it ‘would be a mistake’ to dismiss the by-election results (PA Media)
Tory MP Alicia Kearns said it ‘would be a mistake’ to dismiss the by-election results (PA Media)

A second called for cabinet ministers to topple Mr Johnson, because he was putting “his own personal interests and ambitions” ahead of the party and the country.

“The Conservative party knows precisely where Boris’s leadership is taking us and it is deeply dispiriting that senior figures are not willing to stand up and be counted,” the former minister said.

“When this is all over the party will not forget that those who kept him in power long after his time was up.”

And the veteran MP Sir Roger Gale pointed to the prime minister being abroad, saying: “He seems to be in denial and out of touch with the reality of what is going on at home.”

Critics were also quick to seize on Mr Johnson’s ambitions for a third term, given he’s far from guaranteed to have a second.

One unnamed ex-cabinet minister told The Observer the Prime Minister was “completely delusional”, while a Red Wall MP added he was “showing increasing signs of a bunker mentality, and that never ends well.”

With the prime minister abroad for eight days, Tory rebels are plotting to seize control of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers in elections next month – a possible route to unseating Mr Johnson.

Sir Roger Gale said the PM was out of touch with what was going on at home (screen grab)
Sir Roger Gale said the PM was out of touch with what was going on at home (screen grab)

They would then attempt force a rule change to allow another no-confidence vote by the party’s MPs, lifting the bar preventing another challenge for 12 months, until next June.

Another vote could then be held in the autumn if the looming contempt inquiry into whether Mr Johnson lied to parliament over the No 10 parties is damning.

Andrew Bridgen, another Johnson-critic, said a number of Tories who backed the prime minister in this month’s no-confidence vote had “buyers’ remorse” and “regret that decision”.

The MP called for a fresh vote, telling Sky News: “Changing the rules of the 1922 Committee – or even threatening it – is something Boris Johnson did for Theresa May.”

Speaking from Rwanda, the prime minister insisted the public wanted to hear about his policies – not what he is “alleged to have done wrong” – saying: “I want to get on with changing and reforming our systems and economy.”

Asked, by the BBC, if he accepted he “personally contributed” to the by-election defeats, he replied only that he must “take responsibility for everything that happens on my watch”.

When asked what would make him resign, Mr Johnson pointed to any cabinet decision to “abandon” Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion – while accepting that is highly unlikely.

“I would accept that I have lost a very important argument and I would go, but I don’t see that,” he admitted.

He did receive the “100 per cent support” of the foreign secretary Liz Truss, who insisted the cabinet still backs the prime minister and that “incumbent governments often lose by-elections”.

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