British Prime Minister Boris Johnson under pressure after losing two seats in Parliament

  • Party chairman resigns after defeats, says change needed
  • The Tories lose their seat in the heart of the south
  • Johnson’s 2019 electorate fractures as Labor wins back Wakefield
  • PM mired in lockdown holiday scandal

LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party lost two seats in parliament on Friday, prompting the resignation of the party chairman and reigniting doubts over the struggling British leader’s future.

The losses – one in the traditional southern heartland of the Conservatives and in a northern England seat won by Labor in the last election – suggest the electoral coalition that Johnson assembled in the 2019 national election could fracture.

Johnson’s transformation from vote winner to voter accountability could prompt lawmakers to act 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 resisted intense pressure to resign after being fined for breaking lockdown rules at his Downing Street office, and dismissed the idea that he would quit if his ruling party lost the so- saying by-elections. Read more

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

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

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

This month he survived a vote of confidence from Tory lawmakers, despite 41% of his fellow parliamentarians voting to oust him, and he is being investigated by a committee to find out whether he intentionally misled Parliament.

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

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

“We can’t carry on business as usual. Someone has to take responsibility and I’ve come to the conclusion that under these circumstances it wouldn’t be right for me to stay on.”

Several conservative lawmakers tweeted their support for Dowden, saying he was not responsible for the results in posts suggesting resurgent dissent against Johnson’s leadership.

Although under his party rules Johnson cannot be challenged with a no-confidence motion for another year, lawmakers fearing for their own futures may decide to cut the grace period to induce another vote.

A wave of resignations from Johnson’s ministerial team of top ministers is seen as another way to oust the prime minister.

The next national election is scheduled for 2024, but it could be called earlier.

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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 secured a majority of more than 6,000 votes.

The Liberal Democrats said it was the biggest majority ever overturned in a UK parliamentary election, suggesting other Tory lawmakers could risk losing their seats in the party’s south.

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

“With every day Boris Johnson clings to power, he brings even more shame, chaos and neglect,” he said.

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

“Wakefield has shown that the country has lost faith in the Tories. This result is a clear judgment on a Tory party that has run out of energy and ideas,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said in a statement.

Johnson led the Tories 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 in northern and central England.

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

The by-elections were triggered by high-profile resignations of Tory lawmakers – one who admitted watching pornography in parliament and another convicted of sexually assaulting a teenager.

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

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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