Johnson takes personal responsibility for crushing Tory byelection loss

PM ‘totally understands’ frustrations as Lib Dems’ Helen Morgan wins North Shropshire seat

Boris Johnson has accepted personal responsibility for a byelection defeat in North Shropshire that saw the Liberal Democrats overturn a Conservative majority of almost 23,000.

Helen Morgan won the seat which has been in Conservative hands for almost 200 years following a 34 per cent swing to the Liberal Democrats, winning 17,957 votes compared to the Tories’ 12,032.

“Clearly the vote in North Shropshire is a very disappointing result and I totally understand people’s frustrations. I hear what the voters are saying in North Shropshire and in all humility I have got to accept that verdict. Of course I take personal responsibility,” Mr Johnson told reporters during a visit to a vaccination centre on Friday.

Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was among those in his party who said the defeat raised questions about the prime minister’s leadership, saying he was drinking in the last-chance saloon. The byelection came days after 100 backbench MPs rebelled against new coronavirus restrictions, the latest in a series of political difficulties faced by Mr Johnson in recent weeks.


Last orders

“This has to be seen as a referendum on the prime minister’s performance and I think that the prime minister is now in ‘last orders’ time. Two strikes already, one earlier this week in the vote in the Commons and now this. One more strike and he’s out,” veteran Conservative MP George Gale told the BBC.

The defeat in North Shropshire caps a torrid few weeks for the prime minister, who faces an investigation into parties at Downing Street that may have broken lockdown rules and questions about whether he gave a truthful account of how the refurbishment of his private flat was funded.

Cabinet secretary Simon Case was expected to step away from his role in investigating the Downing Street parties on Friday night when it emerged that he attended a Christmas party held by staff in his private office on December 17th, 2020 when London was under lockdown.

The event took place the day before a party in Downing Street that triggered Mr Case’s investigation and it was listed in digital calendar invitations as “Christmas party!”.

Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith said the controversy over whether officials stuck to the lockdown rules over parties would normally not be important to the public.

“But it becomes important because they then get the view that there’s one rule for some and one rule for the other. So that has to be stopped. It’s not helpful to the prime minister, that people don’t take responsibility, don’t show discipline, and don’t obey the rules in that way. So that has to be brought to a close swiftly and the prime minister just needs to show us really strongly that he not just disapproved, but he’s prepared to get rid of people who are breaking those rules, so he can move on,” he told the BBC.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times