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Boris Johnson told to quit by Tory grandee after double by-election defeat

The Liberal Democrats won Tiverton and Honiton, while Labour won Wakefield.

Image: PA

Updated Fri 8:13 AM

BORIS JOHNSON HAS been told to resign for the good of the Conservative party and the country by former Tory leader Michael Howard after a double by-election defeat.

The UK Prime Minister has vowed to “keep going” after his authority was dealt a series of blows, including the resignation of Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden as co-chair of the party.

Howard urged the Cabinet to consider resigning, as Conservative MPs voiced their fears of losing their seats at the next general election under the Prime Minister’s leadership.

politics-byelections Source: PA Graphics

“The party and more importantly the country would be better off under new leadership,” he told BBC Radio 4’s the World At One programme.

“Members of the Cabinet should very carefully consider their positions.”

He said he “very reluctantly” came to the conclusion after Thursday’s elections show he no longer has the ability to win elections.

Howard, who led the Tories between 2003 and 2005, has not been an outspoken critic of Johnson’s in the past, but did sack him as a shadow minister for lying.

commonwealth-heads-of-government-meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson signs the visitors book while visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. Source: PA

Speaking 4,000 miles away at a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda, Johnson vowed to “listen” to voters after losing the former Tory stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats and Wakefield to Labour.

With 324 Tory MPs elected in 2019 with smaller majorities than in the Tiverton and Honiton constituency, MPs have expressed their concerns that they could lose their seats at the next general election.

The Prime Minister spoke to Chancellor Rishi Sunak by phone for his daily meeting after receiving a warning call from Dowden following an early-morning swim at his hotel.

wakefield-by-election The letter sent by Oliver Dowden to Boris Johnson Source: Oliver Dowden/PA

Speaking to broadcasters, Johnson said he would take responsibility, but insisted the cost-of-living crisis was the most important issue for voters and it was “true that, in mid-term, governments post-war lose by-elections”.

“It’s absolutely true we’ve had some tough by-election results. They’ve been, I think, a reflection of a lot of things, but we’ve got to recognise voters are going through a tough time at the moment,” he said at the conference centre in Kigali.

“I think, as a Government, I’ve got to listen to what people are saying – in particular to the difficulties people are facing over the cost of living, which, I think, for most people is the number one issue.

In the rural Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton, the Lib Dems overturned a 24,000 Tory majority to win, while Labour reclaimed Wakefield.

The contests, triggered by the resignation of two disgraced Tories, offered voters the chance to give their verdict on the Prime Minister just weeks after 148 of his MPs cast their ballots against him in a confidence vote.

Dowden, who was due to appear on the morning media round for the Government before resigning, said in his letter to Johnson that the by-elections “are the latest in a run of very poor results for our party”.

A dramatic swing of almost 30% from the Tories to the Liberal Democrats saw Richard Foord secure a majority of 6,144 in Tiverton and Honiton.

tiverton-and-honiton-by-election The Liberal Democrats’ by-election candidate Richard Foord poses for a photograph with his wife Kate after they cast their votes Source: PA

The new MP used his acceptance speech to call for Johnson “to go, and go now”, claiming his victory had “sent a shockwave through British politics”.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “This should be a wake-up call for all those Conservative MPs propping up Boris Johnson.

“They cannot afford to ignore this result.”

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He said it was “time for Conservative MPs to finally do the right thing and sack him”.

A Tory source said it was a “disappointing but not unexpected result” and “we are confident we will regain this seat at the next general election”.

In Wakefield, Simon Lightwood was elected with a majority of 4,925 on a swing of 12.7% from the Tories to Labour.

embedded267554709 Simon Lightwood, on the campaign trail ahead of his election as Wakefield’s new MP Source: Danny Lawson/PA

Wakefield was one of the so-called red wall seats won by the Tories in the 2019 general election after being Labour since the 1930s.

Lightwood said: “The people of Wakefield have spoken on behalf of the British people.

“They have said, unreservedly: Boris Johnson, your contempt for this country is no longer tolerated.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Wakefield has shown the country has lost confidence in the Tories.

“This result is a clear judgment on a Conservative Party that has run out of energy and ideas. Britain deserves better.”

He said the result showed Labour “is back on the side of working people, winning seats where we lost before, and ready for government”.

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