Recognizing “difficult” results, Boris Johnson promised on Friday to “listen” to voters but was determined to “continue” his work as head of government.
“We have to recognize that we have to do more and we will, we will continue, addressing people’s concerns,” said the prime minister of Rwanda, where he is due to attend a Commonwealth summit.
In a crushing setback for the ruling party, the centrist Liberal Democrats captured their stronghold of Tiverton and Honiton in southwest England, knocking out the Conservative majority by more than 6,000 votes.
The main opposition Labor Party, meanwhile, won back the constituency of Wakefield, in northern England, by almost 5,000 votes, a traditionally Labor stronghold enchanted by the Conservatives during its triumph in December 2019.
These humiliating defeats “are the latest in a series of very bad results for our party,” British Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden wrote in a letter to Boris Johnson announcing his resignation.
“We cannot continue as if nothing had happened”, “someone must take responsibility”, he continued, in this blunt letter to the head of government.
The vote came on Thursday after two resignations by former Conservative lawmakers that have fallen out of favor in recent months.
Wakefield’s research was triggered by the resignation of Imran Khan, sentenced to 18 months in prison for sexually assaulting a teenager. In Tiverton and Honiton, Representative Neil Parish, 65, has tendered his resignation after admitting to watching pornography on his phone in Parliament.
Two weeks after surviving a vote of no confidence in the wake of the “partygate” – the case of wet Downing Street parties during lockdowns – these results are likely to further accentuate the climate of distrust in the majority.
In speeches hailing their victories, the two newly elected MPs said Britons no longer trusted Boris Johnson and called on him to step down.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer, who hopes to replace Johnson as prime minister after the next general election scheduled for 2024, said it was “a clear verdict on a conservative party that is running out of energy and ideas”.
For the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, “the people of Tiverton and Honiton spoke for the country”.
“The public is fed up with Boris Johnson’s lies and violations of the law and it’s time for the Conservative lawmakers to finally do the right thing and fire him.”
The prime minister has been fighting for months for his political survival after a series of controversies, in particular the “Partygate” – those celebrations in Downing Street during lockdowns – that undermined his legitimacy as party leader.
Even before controversy erupted last December, the 58-year-old Brexit architect lost two previously secured seats in a by-election last year. He then had a dismal score in local elections in May.
Weeks later, dozens of Conservative lawmakers sparked a vote of no confidence in Johnson, and more than 40% of them turned their backs on the struggling leader.
The context is proving unfavorable for his government, with the highest inflation in 40 years – more than 9% – leading to a massive strike by railway workers and the recent failure of a controversial attempt to deport migrants to Rwanda.