BORIS Johnson appeared to suggest he could call a snap general election rather than resign. 

Though the Prime Minister, after much questioning during an uncomfortable session of parliament's Liaison Committee, later seemingly ruled out the prospect of a vote before 2024.

Tory MP William Wragg, an arch critic of Mr Johnson, asked him about the “Lascelles Principles”.

These are the conditions that would allow the Queen to refuse a request for an election. She can say no to the Prime Minister if a parliament remained “vital, viable, and capable of doing its job”, if an election would be detrimental to the national economy or if she can find another MP who could “govern for a reasonable period with a working majority in the House of Commons”.  

Responding to the question, the Prime Minister dropped off mid-sentence. He said: “You are asking about something that is not going to happen unless everybody is so crazy as to try and you know, you have a new…”

Pushed on exactly what he meant, Mr Johnson said: “I think that history teaches us that the best way to have a period of stability in government and not to have early elections is to allow people with mandates to get on.”

Again pressed what he had meant by the word “unless”, Mr Johnson said: “Unless people ignore that very good principle.

“History teaches us that the best way to avoid pointless political disturbance is to allow the government that has a mandate to get on and deliver and that is what we’re going to do.”

Asked a third time, he said: “Unless people forget that.

“That means that on the whole I think that it’s a good thing that governments which have a substantial mandate from the electorate and are doing an enormous amount of stuff when that country is facing a lot of pressure, particularly economic pressure, when there are serious international issues at stake I think on the whole it is sensible not to get bogged down in discussion about electoral politics.”

Committee chair, Bernard Jenkin said: “Can I just remind you that when the prime minister Major seemed to be threatening a General Election because he was having trouble with the Maastricht bill it didn’t do his reputation any good at all.”

Mr Johnson said that was “exactly the point he was trying to make”, prompting the chair to reply: “Then I don’t know why you said ‘unless’.”

At the end of the session, he was asked again if would rule out a snap election.

The Prime Minister said “of course, I rule it out”, before adding: “The earliest date that I can see for a general election is two years from now or 2024, I think it is the most likely date for the next election.

“We have a huge amount to deliver. We are going to get on and do it.”