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By-election losses hit hard but Boris Johnson pushes on with long-term plans

Boris Johnson has entered a new week hoping to put two tough by-election defeats behind him, as he seeks to bolster faith in his leadership for the time being – if not into the next decade (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Boris Johnson has entered a new week hoping to put two tough by-election defeats behind him, as he seeks to bolster faith in his leadership for the time being – if not into the next decade (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Boris Johnson has entered a new week hoping to put two tough by-election defeats behind him, as he seeks to bolster faith in his leadership for the time being – if not into the next decade.

The Prime Minister is meeting counterparts at the G7 summit in Germany on the latest leg of a series of international gatherings which have kept him out of the UK, as questions loom over his future.

An announcement on steel tariffs is also expected in the coming days, which the PM is reportedly plotting to please voters in Labour heartlands.

Mr Johnson has insisted the “golden rule” is to “focus on what we are doing” after raising eyebrows by revealing he has ambitions to remain in office into the 2030s.

He admitted on Sunday he has not “had time” to reflect on the biggest regret of his premiership so far, claiming the Government’s achievements have been “remarkable”.

But while he may feel at home among leaders abroad, his premiership back in the UK is far from watertight.

The Conservative Party leader is facing pressure from across the political divide following the double by-election defeat in Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton, further fuelled by the shock resignation of a Cabinet minister.

Oliver Dowden stood down as Tory co-chairman in the wake of the losses early on Friday morning, saying he and Conservative supporters were “distressed and disappointed by recent events”, and telling Mr Johnson that “someone must take responsibility”.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently travelled to Rwanda, and his political troubles travelled with him (Dan Kitwood/PA)

According to The Telegraph, the PM has also been hit by a fresh wave of no-confidence letters after revealing his aspiration to lead the country for not two, but three terms.

It comes amid suggestions of a move to change the rules of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs in order to allow another vote of confidence in Mr Johnson within the next year.

The PM said over the weekend during a trip to Rwanda that he is “thinking actively” about fighting the next two general elections to become the longest-serving post-war leader.

Asked at the G7 summit in Germany on Sunday if his ambitions were delusional, Mr Johnson said: “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 said the “golden rule” is to “focus on what we are doing” – to address the cost of living, the “massive” plan for a stronger economy, and “making sure that the UK continues to offer the kind of leadership around the world that I know our people want”.

Brandon Lewis
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said the PM looking long-term is a positive thing (Jeff Overs/PA)

Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis said during a round of interviews on Sunday he thinks the PM is serious in his aspirations, arguing his desire to look “long-term” when it comes to his leadership “has got to be a good thing”.

The Northern Ireland Secretary told Sky News he sees in Mr Johnson “drive and enthusiasm for what we want to achieve for our country”, and that kind of “zest” is to be celebrated.

He told LBC there is no point in the PM “pretending he’s somebody else” after Mr Johnson insisted he will not undergo a “psychological transformation” despite pressure piling on his leadership.

In an interview with ITV at the G7 summit, the Prime Minister said the Government will continue to do “remarkable” things.

Asked for his biggest regret of his tenure so far, he said: “I’m going to leave that to further reflection, I haven’t had time to think about that.”

POLITICS Byelections
(PA Graphics)

Labour, meanwhile, challenged the Tories to call an early election, with leader Sir Keir Starmer telling Mr Johnson: “Bring it on.”

Asked in Rwanda if he believed questions over his leadership were settled, Mr Johnson replied: “Yes.”

But the expressions of discontent have kept on coming from his own backbenches, with Damian Green, who chairs the One Nation caucus of Tory MPs, warning the Government “needs to alter both its style and content” and calling on Cabinet members with leadership hopes to show their stripes.

On Sunday night, William Wragg, the Tory chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour he has concerns for the security of his seat – and for those of colleagues “with majorities much larger than mine” – which would likely be assuaged by Mr Johnson’s departure.

Tiverton and Honiton by-election
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey celebrates the by-election victory in Tiverton (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Telegraph has reported the PM intends to impose sweeping new steel tariffs in a drive to win back support in traditional Labour heartlands.

It said ministers also plan to announce a two-year extension of steel tariffs already imposed on developed countries and China. The deadline for the Government’s decision on this is Thursday.

In the by-election in the Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton, a dramatic swing of almost 30% from the Conservatives saw their 24,000 majority overturned by the Liberal Democrats.

In West Yorkshire, Labour seized back Wakefield with a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7% from the Tories.

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