Boris Johnson says change to his character ‘not going to happen’ as pressure mounts over byelection defeats – UK politics live

PM dismisses idea of ‘psychological transformation’ on his part

Husain asks whether Johnson is approaching the byelection defeats with an attitude of “more of the same” rather than admitting he needs to change.

“If you are saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, your listeners know that is not going to happen,” he says.

“I want to get on with changing and reforming our systems and economy. If we’re going to have an argument about politics, let’s have an argument about how the railways run, that is a subject of engrossing fascination for people up and down the country because of the rail strikes.”

An interesting story in the Times (paywall) this morning, that Boris Johnson planned to spend £150,000 on buying a treehouse for his son Wilf at Chequers.

The newspaper has been told that the PM and his wife, Carrie, wanted to build the treehouse in autumn 2020, and it would have been financed by Lord Brownlow.

Brownlow was the peer who paid £58,000 towards the controversial refurbishment of the Johnson’s Downing Street flat.

The project was apparently cancelled after security concerns were raised by police.

A lot of train services will be finishing early tonight because of the strikes, despite big events including concerts for Ed Sheeran, Rolling Stones and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers taking place in London.

The last Great Northern train will leave London at 8.05pm and similar services from Southern leaving London Bridge and London Victoria will finish at the same time.

Greater Anglia trains will end at 5.30pm.

Boris Johnson also appeared on Sky News this morning. A lot of what he was asked, and said, was similar to his comments to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

However he said that politics, including his party’s two defeats on Thursday in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton was part of politics allowing people the “safety valve of letting off at governments”, he told Beth Rigby.

Inevitably when you’re the head of a government that’s taking the country through a big inflationary price caused by the increasing cost of energy, people are frustrated.

What I’m saying is politics is about allowing people to have the democratic safety valve of letting off at governments, such as in byelections. But then the job of a leader is to say, well, what is the criticism that really matters here?

Johnson also said that there was a risk of pressure being placed on Ukraine to accept a “bad peace” due to the disruption to the global economy caused by Russia’s invasion and the ensuing conflict.

I think the risk is that people will fail to see that it is vital to stand up against aggression … if Putin gets away with aggression in Ukraine, if he gets away with the naked conquest of other people’s territory, then the read across for every single country here is absolutely dramatic.

Mick Lynch visits the picket line at Euston station during strikes on Thursday.
Mick Lynch visits the picket line at Euston station during strikes on Thursday. Photograph: Guy Smallman/Getty Images

A quick pivot back to the rail strikes that are in their final day this week, the third time in the last seven days that RMT workers have taken industrial action on national rail services.

The union’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, was speaking to Sky News Breakfast this morning. He would not rule out further strike action this summer as talks with the rail companies continue.

There was hope that “progress” had been made, although many of the same changes proposed by the train operating companies remained as part of their demands – and job cuts still remain.

Lynch said:

We’ve got to be very cautious about what they call progress.

They may be progressing their agenda, but it doesn’t mean that our members are going to accept those changes, just because the company wants them, so we’ve got to work that problem through with them.

So it’s likely unless we get a lot of movement provided by the government that the companies can change their stance that there will be more action, yes.

He said he could not say when they would take place, and strikes need to have at least two weeks’ notice.

We won’t hesitate to use more industrial action if we can’t reach an agreement or if the companies carry through their threats to make people redundant.

On to the Rwanda policy, as Johnson is speaking from Kigali. He says that the deportation policy is driven by a “horror” at scenes in the Channel and it aims at breaking the business model of traffickers.

“One of our distinguished civil servants thinks that people are deterred at Calais, but it is early days and there’s a long way to go. The policy attracts a significant amount of legal opposition.”

He is asked what he said to Prince Charles, who is reported to have expressed opposition to the policy.

“I’m not going to get into conversations with the heir to the throne … but we had a good long conversation about a load of things. What I can tell you, is that he said it himself, he said it yesterday, is that Rwanda is extraordinary. This is a country that was in the absolute depths of psychic hell in 1994, in recent memory, I remember colleagues, journalists going off to cover this, what an absolute nightmare it was.”

He says that UK journalists saw accommodation that will be used for refugees, yesterday, and were “impressed” and points out other countries including Denmark and the US have similar policies.

And that’s it from the Today interview.

Husain asks how it’s fair or right that the top civil servant in the country, Simon Case, asked about job opportunities for Carrie Johnson.

“I think that the worst thing I could possibly do is get into conversations about my family, my private life.

“It’s also about a choice, which is, do we focus on personalities, do we focus on Johnson leadership, or do we focus on the things that we are doing for the country, and BBC, I humbly submit to you that this is the time, where I think lots and lots of people, fascinated as they may be by the personal questions you raise, actually they want us as a government and want me to focus on our agenda and get it done,” Johnson says.

Johnson insists he didn’t mislead the house, when Mishal points out he didn’t resign after doing so, while asking what else would have to happen for him to consider resigning.

“What’s happened is I have got a renewed mandate from my colleagues and I will continue to deliver. I can see and I accept that people are having it tough.

“I draw the conclusion that voters are heartily sick of hearing about me and the things I am alleged to have done wrong. What they want to hear is what we’re doing for them. What I’m trying to set out is the ambitions we have for the country, to tackle the cost of living and for a stronger economy.”

Mishal said Johnson’s mandate “for change” is falling apart, with the Hartlepool byelection loss, as well as others in Shropshire and Amersham. She refers to a potential change in the 1922 Committee rules which could see Johnson face another confidence vote, after winning one last month.

Johnson claims that the only suggestion being made is about going back into the EU single market. When Husain mentions Lord Geidt, who resigned over concerns with the government and Johnson’s direction, he refers to a disagreement about steel tariffs.

She asks if he thinks leadership is about morality and if there are any circumstances in which he would resign.

He says: “Of course I think it is [about morality]. If it was put to me we had to abandon the Ukrainian cause because it was getting too difficult and the cost of supporting that people was too great in terms of inflation, economic damage, I would accept I had lost a very important argument and I would go. But I don’t see that.”

Husain asks why the government isn’t following through with promises made during the Brexit referendum about cutting or removing VAT from energy bills, which would bring costs down.

Johnson replies: “We are a sensible government Mishal, and the British public understand this and I don’t think they are amnesiac that a couple of years ago we were spending £408bn to support people during the pandemic, they know that we have to be sensible about the way we approach it.

“Cutting taxes on families is a way to stimulate growth and that’s one of the dividing lines in politics. I’m very happy to have arguments about tax. When it comes to energy, and the cost of people’s energy bills, tax is not enough. You’ve got to look at the way the whole thing works. At the moment, one of the problems is, people are being charged for their electricity prices on the basis of the top marginal gas price, and that is frankly ludicrous, we need to get rid of that system and reform energy markets as other countries in Europe have done.

“It’s only through reform that you can bear down on costs.”

Johnson says that fuel duty has been cut, but does not respond to Husain’s question about whether further cuts will be made. The Today presenter says that current cuts have been swallowed up by wider cost of living increases.

“We’re cutting fuel duty,” he says. “There may be more that we have to do. You have to look at the whole way the energy market works.”

Husain interjects as Johnson goes off point. She tells him that a huge portion of petrol prices goes to the Treasury. “There may be more things we can do,” he says. “People know that we are doing a huge amount with the fiscal firepower that we have to support them right now, to put £1,200 into the most vulnerable households, next July, coming into people’s bank accounts, there’s talk about tax, a cut in national insurance worth an average of £330 coming in for 30 million people just next month as well.

“We are cutting taxes, we cut council tax, we are cutting taxes where we can.”

PM dismisses idea of ‘psychological transformation’ on his part

Husain asks whether Johnson is approaching the byelection defeats with an attitude of “more of the same” rather than admitting he needs to change.

“If you are saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, your listeners know that is not going to happen,” he says.

“I want to get on with changing and reforming our systems and economy. If we’re going to have an argument about politics, let’s have an argument about how the railways run, that is a subject of engrossing fascination for people up and down the country because of the rail strikes.”

Boris Johnson is on the Today programme from Kigali speaking to presenter Mishal Husain.

He thanks Oliver Dowden for his work as party chairman, before his resignation yesterday.

“I’ve got to take responsibility for everything that happens on my watch, and accept humbly and sincerely all the criticism you get in a job like mine.”

He talks about being “buffeted” in mid-term byelection results. “My job is to look at exactly what has happened and which criticisms matter and what I need to learn.”

Johnson says that voters were “fed up” of hearing about news about “things they thought I shouldn’t have been doing, and things I got wrong”, which is perhaps an oblique reference to Partygate. He says that they want to hear about policies and what the government is doing.

“We’ve got to get the focus on all the things we are doing to take the country forward,” he adds.

Analysis: PM’s rebels see opportunities

Rowena Mason

Rowena Mason

While Boris Johnson was in Rwanda, having an early-morning swim in the luxurious pool of the conference hotel, his Tory critics were already planning another go at ousting him.

The backbench plotters had previously been despondent about the prospects of kicking Johnson out after he narrowly won a confidence vote of his MPs and the cabinet rallied round him.

But they have been given fresh hope of removing him in the coming weeks because of renewed anger and incredulity among Tory MPs about the disastrous byelection results, as well as the scandal over attempts to get a government job for his then girlfriend and now wife, Carrie Johnson. “It’ll be a random walk, but we’ll get there erelong,” said one former cabinet minister cheerfully.

Johnson’s No 10 aides insist he still has scope to turn things around by being “humble” and accepting that more needs to change while not “over-panicking” about midterm results. However, there was evidence on Friday that even some of Johnson’s erstwhile backers believe his time may soon be up. “It wouldn’t do him any harm if he wanted to look in the mirror. He needs to ask himself: have I got the stomach for this, and am I going to be able to do this. Is it me?” said one Tory MP and grandee who has been supportive of the prime minister up until now.

Tory critics of Johnson had been looking at the autumn as the next moment when he may be in danger, the point when the privileges committee reports on whether he lied to parliament and therefore broke the ministerial code. However, the rebels now believe there may now be two other routes in the short term. The first, that many are holding out hope for, is a cabinet or senior ministerial walkout, after Oliver Dowden resigned as chair of the Conservatives with a hint that others should realise the party could not “carry on with business as usual”.

‘Go now!’: what the papers say

The crisis engulfing Boris Johnson’s premiership could be reaching the terminal stage, judging by the press reaction to the Tories’ humiliating double byelection losses in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton.

The Daily Telegraph, the traditional voice of the Conservative party, carries a splash with the headline “Tory rebels plot next move to unseat PM”, and reports that the prime minister’s “enemies to push for control of 1922 Committee after byelection defeats”.

The Times has a very similar lead story under the headline “PM faces new Tory threat” and quotes one minister as saying that some disgruntled ministers facing the sack in a forthcoming government reshuffle could resign and lead “pre-emptive strikes” against Johnson.

The Mirror says “Go now”, echoing the call of former Tory leader Michael Howard that the party would be “better off” if Johnson resigned.

Pressure mounts on Johnson

Good morning and welcome to our live UK political coverage as the fallout from the Conservatives’ double byelection defeat continues.

The former Conservative leader Michael Howard was among those who demanded the prime minister stand down after the losses in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield, which prompted the immediate resignation of the party’s co-chair, Oliver Dowden.

In his pointed resignation letter, widely regarded as a call to others to act, Dowden told the prime minister: “We cannot carry on with business as usual. Someone must take responsibility.”

And Johnson faces unrest on the backbenches too, with MPs hoping to secure a majority on the executive of the influential 1922 Committee, in the hope they can change the party’s rules to allow a fresh confidence vote without waiting for a year.

The prime minister, who is currently in Rwanda, will be speaking to the BBC’s Today programme shortly. We’ll bring you coverage of that, as well as all the rest of the day’s political news – and coverage of the ongoing rail strikes around the country.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.