Boris Johnson insisted he would lead the Tories into the next general election as he faced a potentially difficult set of local elections.
The Prime Minister faces a cost-of-living crisis, the fallout from his fine over a lockdown-busting birthday party in No 10 and scandals involving Tory MPs as voters head to the ballot boxes on Thursday.
Environment Secretary George Eustice acknowledged that “all prime ministers will always be very conscious of the mood in their parliamentary party”, in response to speculation that poor results on Thursday could lead to more letters of no confidence from Tory MPs.
But Mr Johnson said he had the “right agenda for the country” and “of course” he would lead the party into the next general election – and win it.
Under Conservative Party rules, there must be a vote on the Prime Minister’s future if 54 MPs write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady saying they have lost confidence in their leader.
So far only a handful of MPs have publicly confirmed sending a letter, with many critics of Mr Johnson holding back due to the war in Ukraine, although results of the elections and any further developments in the partygate saga could change that position.
Mr Eustice told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “All prime ministers will always be very conscious of the mood in their parliamentary party because no government can get anything done unless it enjoys the support of the parliamentary party as a whole.
“So of course the Prime Minister will be thinking about these things. But for now, he’s also making sure that we deal with some of the international challenges like the problems in Ukraine, that we give them the support they need, that we help steer our economy through this period where we’re getting some inflationary pressures.
“And up and down the country we’ve got councillors fighting elections on local issues, things like planning, things like local council tax, and we’re doing our part and the Prime Minister is playing his part to support our councillors in those campaigns for tomorrow’s elections.”
The party leaders were visiting key electoral battlegrounds on the last day of campaigning before voters go to the polls.
Mr Johnson visited Southampton Airport while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was in Wakefield and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey campaigned in the South East.
The Prime Minister told reporters that he was “absolutely confident that we have the right agenda for the country”.
“I have a big mandate to deliver,” he said.
Asked if he would still be there at the next election, due to be held in 2024 at the latest, Mr Johnson said: “Of course. And I’m also very confident we will succeed at the next election.”
Labour’s Sir Keir said the elections were a chance to demonstrate how the party had changed under his leadership.
He said: “It is a step on the road to the general election and we have come a long way in the last two years, we have changed the Labour Party, but we are now so focused on the issues that matter most to people and, at the moment, that is how they pay their bills.”
He again denied Tory claims his party had struck a secret pact with the Liberal Democrats to maximise Conservative pain on Thursday.
In other developments:
– Mr Eustice suggested on Sky News that shoppers should choose “value brands” to “contain and manage their household budget”.
– Sir Keir said he had not been contacted by Durham Police over an April 2021 gathering which the Tories have called for officers to re-investigate over claims it breached coronavirus laws.
– Lib Dem leader Sir Ed said the elections could “send a shockwave from communities around the country to the heart of the Conservative Party”.
– Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan of breaking pre-election rules over the announcement the Elizabeth line railway across the capital will open on May 24.
– Neil Parish formally resigned as an MP after watching pornography in the Commons, setting up a by-election in a Tory seat which the Lib Dems will target.
Meanwhile, party leaders in Scotland stepped up their campaigns while tensions are also high in Northern Ireland ahead of the Stormont elections.
Mr Eustice was asked what the UK Government’s response would be to a Sinn Fein majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the possibility of a border poll on unification with Ireland.
He told Sky: “Well, we will deal with whatever we’re faced with after we have the results on Thursday.”
Mr Eustice added: “Whether or not to have a referendum is always a matter for the UK Government, always has been.”