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Boris Johnson downplays double election defeat as ‘safety valve’

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Boris Johnson today downplayed the Tories’ crushing double defeat in the election as backseat rebels devise a new plan to oust him amid growing concerns over his premiership.

The Prime Minister took responsibility for the modest losses in Tiverton and Wakefield, saying the votes gave the public a ‘safety valve’ to brag about governments.

But Mr Johnson claimed voters were tired of hearing how he’d “coughed it” in recent months, insisting: “If you say you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation… that’s not going to happen.” .’

It comes as MPs seeking to remove Mr Johnson are throwing their hats in the ring for top positions on the influential 1922 committee, which rules the line on party confidence votes.

The prime minister survived such a poll earlier this month, although a massive 41% of blue seats in the House did not support him, and under current committee rules, a new referendum on the leader cannot be held for another year.

But rebels want to scrap that policy, according to the Telegraphand may do so if approved by a majority of 10 of the 18 senior figures on the committee.

At least three are seeking election for such roles, and one tells the paper: ‘We could enter a world where the situation is no longer a joke. Then you need agents who want to say: enough is enough.’

Another MP who has previously publicly supported Mr Johnson has now opposed the Guardian: ‘It wouldn’t hurt him if he wanted to look in the mirror. He must ask himself: do I have the guts for this, and am I going to be able to do this. Is it me?’

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey celebrates with supporters and activists gathered at Lowman Green Clock Tower in Tiverton

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey celebrates with supporters and activists gathered at Lowman Green Clock Tower in Tiverton

The Prime Minister was in an optimistic mood when he spoke this morning with Sky News and BBC Radio Four’s Today program from Kigali, Rwanda, to respond to another difficult week for him and the conservatives.

Asked about his comments on Friday that he expects voters to beat him up, Boris Johnson told Sky News: “Well I spoke metaphorically and what I mean is when you’re the leader of a country, in good times and in bad , you need to think about the criticism you get.

“And you have to recognize that if you’re heading a government that is dragging the country through a high inflation price caused by rising energy costs, people get frustrated. People fill their cars and curse while doing so.

“I understand, we have to help them – and I understand people’s frustration.

“So what I’m saying is that politics is about allowing people to have the democratic safety valve to put themselves out there in governments, like in midterm elections. But then it’s a leader’s job to say, what’s the criticism that really matters here?

“And I think back to what I said, I think so, for a long time people didn’t hear enough about the things that really matter.”

And he defended the impact of his own behavior on voters, insisting that people want to hear less about the “stuff I crammed” and more about the government’s agenda.

‘For a long time people didn’t hear enough about the things that really matter,’ he says.

He seemed to acknowledge that he was criticized and said ‘that’s right’.

But he added: “People were tired of hearing about things I was promoting, that endless pile of stuff, when they wanted to hear what this man is doing.”

Boris Johnson today brushed aside the Tories' crushing double defeat - as backbench rebels devise another bid to oust him amid growing concerns over his premiership

Boris Johnson today brushed aside the Tories’ crushing double defeat – as backbench rebels devise another bid to oust him amid growing concerns over his premiership

Tiverton and Honiton Lib Dem MP Richard Foord

Wakefield Labor MP Simon Lightwood

In seismic results in the early hours of yesterday morning, the Conservatives lost two seats in West Yorkshire and Devon by wide margins after months of sleaze and economic woes that have tarnished Mr Johnson’s premiership.

Asked on Today whether morality is a part of leadership, Mr Johnson replied “of course,” before adding an example of a matter of principle that would cause him to resign from No10.

He said: “If I was told that we had to give up the Ukrainian cause because it was getting too difficult and the cost of supporting those people in their heroic fight for freedom was too high in terms of inflation or economic damage, I would accept that I a very important argument had lost and was going to – but I don’t see that.’

In response, however, the Lib Dems said the Prime Minister’s comments showed that “this leopard has no intention of changing its spots.”

The party’s deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, said: “The last thing our country needs right now is for this failing Prime Minister to be on his tail as every crisis under his care gets worse.

“People in Tiverton and Honiton made it crystal clear that, like the rest of Britain, they want to show Boris Johnson the door.

Johnson’s premiership and reputation are in tatters. If he doesn’t have what it takes to do the right thing and step down, Conservative MPs should kick him out.”

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