Britain's prime minister has insisted he will not undergo a “psychological transformation” as pressure piles on his leadership in the wake of the Tories’ double by-election defeat.
Boris Johnson said he must “humbly and sincerely” accept any criticism he receives in his job, but he argued every government gets “buffeted” by bad by-election results mid-term.
He claimed voters are tired of hearing about what he is “alleged to have done wrong”, and called instead for a focus on “what we’re doing for them”.
It comes as the loss of two crunch by-elections in Yorkshire and Devon and Oliver Dowden’s sudden resignation as Tory chairman have threatened to pitch Mr Johnson's leadership into a fresh crisis.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today on Saturday, Mr Johnson said his role is to look at exactly what happened and “think which criticisms really matter”.
Put to him that Mr Dowden had said as he resigned that business could not continue as usual, the British prime minister said: “If you’re saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, I think that our listeners would know that is not going to happen.
“What you can do, and what the government should do, and what I want to do, is to get on with changing and reforming and improving our systems and our economy.”
Despite some early speculation in the wake of the by-election results, Mr Dowden was the sole cabinet minister to tender his resignation.
That has not stopped Tory rebels reportedly using the by-election defeats as the springboard for the latest attempted heave against their prime minister, with the Times suggesting opponents of Mr Johnson are planning a takeover of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers in a bid to change the rules to allow another confidence vote on his leadership.
Mr Johnson told Today the only argument of “substance” for a change of direction he has heard from his critics is for the UK to return to the EU single market.
“I would say to them, you know, with great respect – and I love all these people – but don’t forget that the only actual argument that I’ve heard some of my critics make of substance about the change of direction they’d like to see is for us to go back into the EU single market,” he said.
“That’s literally the only manifesto point that I’ve seen.”
On what lessons he will take from the by-election results, he said: “I draw the conclusion the voters are heartily sick of hearing about me and the things I’m alleged to have done wrong.
“What they want to hear is what we’re doing for them. And what I’m setting out for you, or trying to set out, is the ambitions we have (for) the country.”
Mr Johnson suggested he would stand down as prime minister if it was put to him he had to “abandon the Ukrainian cause”.
But he later denied saying this was the only principle that would trigger his resignation.
“I didn’t say that – you asked me for an example of a matter of principle, I came up with one,” he said.
The departure of Mr Dowden may also prompt a reshuffle in the prime minister’s top team, with reports that Priti Patel could be asked to leave her home secretary role to become party chair.
The Liberal Democrats said Mr Johnson’s comments show “this leopard has no intention of changing his spots”.