UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson under pressure after losing two parliamentary seats

  • Party chairman resigns after defeats, says change is needed
  • Conservatives lose seat in heart of the South
  • Johnson’s 2019 electorate fractures as Labor recaptures Wakefield
  • PM mired in scandal for confinement parties

LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party lost two parliamentary seats on Friday, prompting the resignation of the party’s chairman and renewing doubts about the future of the embattled British leader.

The defeats, one in the Conservatives’ traditional southern heartland and in a northern England seat won by Labor in the last election, suggest the electoral coalition Johnson assembled in the 2019 national election may be breaking down.

Johnson’s transformation from vote-winner to election official may prompt lawmakers to move against him again after months of scandal over the COVID-19 lockdown parties and amid a growing cost-of-living crisis.

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Johnson has resisted intense pressure to resign after he was fined for breaking confinement rules at his Downing Street office, and rejected the idea that he would step down if his ruling party lost a so-called by-election. read more

“It’s absolutely true that we’ve had some tough results in the by-elections… I think as a government I have to listen to what people are saying,” Johnson told the media after the results.

“We have to recognize that there is more we need to do…we will continue to address people’s concerns until we get past this patch.”

Johnson is currently out of the country in Rwanda at a Commonwealth meeting.

This month he survived a confidence vote by Conservative lawmakers, although 41% of his fellow MPs voted to impeach him, and a committee is investigating him over whether he intentionally misled parliament.

Following defeats at Tiverton and Honiton in the south of England and Wakefield in the north, Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden resigned, saying things had to change.

“Yesterday’s parliamentary by-elections are the latest in a string of very poor results for our party. Our supporters are distraught and disappointed by recent events, and I share their sentiments,” Dowden said in a resignation letter to Johnson.

“We cannot continue as before. Someone must take responsibility and I have come to the conclusion that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to continue in office.”

Several Conservative lawmakers tweeted their support for Dowden, saying he was not to blame for the results in messages that suggested a resurgence of dissent against Johnson’s leadership.

Although under his party’s rules, Johnson cannot be challenged on a no-confidence motion for another year, lawmakers who fear for their own future may decide to shorten the grace period to get another vote.

A wave of resignations from Johnson’s cabinet team of senior ministers is seen as another way the prime minister could be ousted.

The next national elections are scheduled to take place in 2024, but could be called earlier.

‘GO NOW’

The Conservatives lost a large majority of more than 24,000 votes in Tiverton and Honiton, in a deeply conservative part of south-west England, to the centrist Liberal Democrats who won a majority of more than 6,000.

The Liberal Democrats said it was the largest majority ever overturned in a British parliamentary by-election, suggesting other Conservative lawmakers may be at risk of losing their seats in the party’s southern heartland.

Lib Dem winning candidate Richard Foord said in his victory speech that Johnson should “go and go now”.

“Every day that Boris Johnson clings to office brings more shame, chaos and abandonment,” he said.

In the separate parliamentary seat of Wakefield in the north of England, the main opposition Labor party also defeated the Conservatives. read more

“Wakefield has shown that the country has lost confidence in the Conservatives. This result is a clear judgment call on a Conservative Party that has run out of energy and ideas,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said in a statement.

Johnson led the Conservatives to their biggest majority in three decades in the 2019 national election, winning praise from his party for his ability to win in traditionally Labor voting areas of northern and central England.

However, Wakefield’s loss could indicate that his ability to win again in these areas in the next national election, scheduled for 2024, has also been compromised.

The by-elections were sparked by the high-profile resignations of Conservative lawmakers, one who admitted to viewing pornography in parliament and another found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenager.

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Reporting by Alistair Smout in London, additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill in Kigali; Edited by Elizabeth Piper and Toby Chopra

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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