Boris Johnson has described as “crazy” a suggestion that he should quit if the Tories lose two byelections on Thursday.
As the Conservatives battled to retain Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, the prime minister was asked on Wednesday if he would take responsibility and resign if they lost both.
He replied: “Come on, it was only a year ago that we won the Hartlepool byelection, which everybody thought was – you know, we hadn’t won Hartlepool for – I can’t remember when the Tory party last won Hartlepool – a long time. I don’t think it ever had.
“Governing parties generally do not win byelections, particularly not in midterm. You know, I’m very hopeful, but you know, there you go.”
Asked to confirm he was not considering his future, he replied: “Are you crazy?”
The Commonwealth heads of government (Chogm) summit in Kigali was meant to take place in 2020, but was suspended because of Covid.
Johnson flew into the Rwandan capital on Thursday morning for the latest Chogm. First on his agenda was a scheduled bilateral meeting with Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame. Local reports said they discussed the issue of migration among other topics.
Under Johnson, the UK’s relationship with Rwanda has been transformed. In April, the UK signed a £120m deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, with no formal way of legitimately returning to the UK.
In the afternoon Johnson will give a speech at the summit’s business forum and attend a round table with Pacific Island nations. He will also visit Kigali’s memorial to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which more than 500,000 Tutsis were killed.
But his visit continues to be dominated by the Rwanda deal. On Wednesday night Johnson called on critics to stop their “condescending” attitudes towards Rwanda.
Speaking before boarding a plane for the east African state, he said: “Clearly I’m going to Rwanda and [this is] an opportunity to for us all to see the country with whom we now have this very important economic and migration partnership. And perhaps to help others to shed some of those condescending attitudes towards Rwanda and how that partnership might work.”
The prime minister is expected to meet Prince Charles on Thursday, their first encounter since it was widely claimed that the prince had described the government’s Rwanda plan as appalling.
They will have a “bilateral” meeting on Friday, which the PM’s aides say will be informal.
Asked if Prince Charles was one of those condescending people, Johnson said on Wednesday: “I can’t confirm that. What I can say is that I think that the policy is sensible, measured, and it’s a plan to deal with the grotesque abuse of innocent people crossing the Channel.”
During his visit, Johnson called in at the Groupe Scolaire Kacyiru II school, on the outskirts of Kigali, which receives funding from the British government. The children clapped as the prime minister entered the first classroom, and then read him a story about an unhealthy hen.
It began: “Hetty was an unhealthy hen. She never did exercise. She sleeps all day. She ate lots of unhealthy food. One day, Hetty saw a poster for a hen race.”
Johnson sat on a child’s chair looking bemused as the pupils read the story.