oris Johnson would like to “go on and on”, a Cabinet minister said, as Conservative MPs prepare fresh moves against the Prime Minister.
Echoing similar comments made by former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she campaigned for her third term in 1987, Environment Secretary George Eustice said Mr Johnson was determined to carry on despite last week’s defeats in two crunch by-elections and the resignation of former party chairman Oliver Dowden.
At the weekend the Prime Minister said he was actively thinking about “a third term”, raising the prospect of him remaining in charge into the 2030s, although No10 later said he was joking.
Mr Eustice told Times Radio on Monday morning: “Yes he would like to go on and on, but to be honest we also understand there are a lot of hurdles to clear.”
Asked to explain the PM’s remarks about a third term, the minister added on BBC Breakfast: “He has got no plans to go at the moment. He has got people on his back, people saying should you go, why don’t you go?
“He was really making a very clear statement that he wants to put all that speculation to one side. He wants to focus on the task in hand…the rest of Cabinet are working together with him on that, we stick together through difficult times as well as good times.
“The point he was making is that he is going to carry on. He has the support of the Cabinet to carry on. We have got to stick together and get through this.”
Mr Eustice’s comments come as Tory MPs opposed to the Prime Minister weigh whether to push for a change in the party’s rules to allow another confidence vote. The Prime Minister won a confidence vote at the start of June and under the current 1922 Committee rules a party leader cannot face a second challenge inside a year.
However, MPs are set to nominate members to the 1922 Executive Committee in the coming days with opponents of the Prime Minister said to be seeking to control the make up of the committee, enabling it to change the one year time limit on confidence votes.
Mr Eustice insisted that following the confidence vote on June 6, which the Prime Minister won by 211-148, that many of those who voted against him were still backing the Government.
He said: “There is a significant minority…148 MPs voting against the Prime Minister was a big cause for concern, there’s no doubt about that but also I have spoken to some of them since, they have taken the view there was the vote, they expressed their view, those people are still supporting the government.
“The party generally has had that vote and put it behind us for now and they want the Prime Minister to really double down and address some of the problems we have got in this country and they want to give him the space to do that.”
But senior Conservative MP William Wragg, vice chair of the 1922 Executive Committee, told the BBC on Sunday night there was disappointment on the Tory backbenches there hadn’t been more Cabinet members prepared to ‘show backbone’ and follow Mr Dowden by resigning.
“OIiver Dowden has resigned and credit to him for doing so in taking an element of responsibility,” Mr Wragg said. “But so far I think it is fair to say, and it’s all very well of colleagues whispering to each other in the tearoom and in the corridors, that the sense of disappointment that there is on the backbenches towards the Cabinet is palpable because you would have expected for some of them at least to show a bit of backbone and indeed leadership. Indeed any of them with leadership aspirations might wish to consider this and do something about it.”
Another senior Consetrvative MP, Damian Green, added on Channel 4 on Sunday night: “It’s no secret that many of the people in the Cabinet are setting up potential leadership campaigns. I think if this long agony for everyone concerned, from the PM down, is to be brought to a head… then maybe somebody in the Cabinet might wish to take some action.”
On the possibility that Conservative MPs might try to change the rules to allow another vote of confidence, Mr Wragg said: “I don’t think it is desirable that the 1922 Committee should tinker with the rules although it did previously in recent history at the end of end of Mrs [Theresa] May’s Government.”