LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday angered many of his Conservative Party colleagues with bold claims of being on track to lead the governing party at the next general election, despite a growing rebellion against his leadership following scathing defeats in two important by-elections.
Johnson has been putting up a strong defence in the face of criticism after voters punished the Conservatives over the partygate scandal and rising cost of living crisis by voting for Opposition Labour and Liberal Democrats in the by-elections earlier this week.
With these by-polls seen as a de facto referendum on his leadership, the UK PM was asked by reporters at the end of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda if he would like to serve a full second term in office until the next election expected in 2028-2029.
"At the moment I'm thinking actively about the third term and what could happen then, but I will review that when I get to it," he told reporters. A Downing Street source later suggested he may have been joking.
Earlier, in a BBC interview, Johnson said: "If you're saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, I think that our listeners would know that is not going to happen."
"What you can do, and what the government should do, and what I want to do, is to get on with changing and reforming and improving our systems and our economy."
He claimed that voters were "fed up with hearing conversation about me" and wanted to focus instead on the cost of living, the economy and "standing up to violence and aggression" in Ukraine. "Forget about me, think about what this country, the UK could do and where it's gone," he told reporters.
However, his reaction and comments in the wake of the by-election defeats have attracted strong criticism from Conservative Party quarters believed to be plotting yet again to try and oust him as leader and Prime Minister.
One unnamed former supporter of Johnson and an ex-Cabinet minister branded his remarks as "completely delusional".
A senior member of Parliament from a "red wall" seat, traditionally Labour Party strongholds which had been won over by the Tories in the 2019 general election, said he was "showing increasing signs of a bunker mentality, and that never ends well".
Another former Tory veteran who had backed Johnson as leader in 2019 warned that if he did not heed the lessons of the double defeats at the Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections and take the appropriate action, "then his parliamentary colleagues will have to do it for him".
The poll setbacks was made worse by the subsequent resignation of the Conservative Party chair and close ally Oliver Dowden, who declared "we cannot carry on with business as usual" and that someone "must take responsibility".
Johnson will be hoping to put these domestic political difficulties to one side as he meets world leaders at two summits over the coming days, the G7 in Germany from Sunday and a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) meeting in Spain from Tuesday.