Johnson dismisses calls for resignation after double byelection defeat

Liberal Democrats overturn 24,000-plus majority to secure Tiverton and Honiton, while Labour takes Wakefield

Boris Johnson has dismissed renewed calls for his resignation after the Conservatives lost two byelections, the party chairman resigned and a former leader said the prime minister should go. Speaking in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, where he is attending a Commonwealth summit, Mr Johnson said it was wrong to pay too much attention to his role.

“I genuinely, genuinely don’t think the way forward is to focus on issues of personality whether they are mine or others,” he said.

The Liberal Democrats won the Devon seat of Tiverton and Honerton with a swing of 30 per cent, overturning a Conservative majority of 24,239. Labour won the Yorkshire seat of Wakefield by 4,925 votes with a swing of 12.7 per cent from the Conservatives.

Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden resigned early on Friday morning after the results were declared, suggesting in his resignation letter that the prime minister was to blame. “We cannot carry on with business as usual,” he said. “Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.”


More than 40 per cent of Mr Johnson’s MPs voted no confidence in his leadership this month but Mr Dowden is the first cabinet minister to resign since that rebellion. Under party rules the prime minister is safe from another challenge for 12 months but former Conservative leader Michael Howard said on Friday that the party might have to change the rules to get rid of Mr Johnson.

“His biggest asset has always been his ability to win votes but I’m afraid yesterday’s results make it clear that he no longer has that ability,” Lord Howard told the BBC. “Members of the cabinet should very carefully consider their positions”.

Another former Conservative leader William Hague also urged cabinet ministers to consider resigning if Mr Johnson was unwilling to step down. He said that many in the party were looking to the cabinet to take action after the prime minister survived this month’s confidence vote, which some MPs think was premature.

“There comes a point for a party where it is potentially heading towards a disaster and there’s tremendous loss of faith among party activists as well as voters around the country. There does come a point where cabinet members need to steel themselves to do that. That’s what I would do if I was in the cabinet today,” Lord Hague told Times Radio.

Mr Johnson said he had taken the right decisions during the pandemic and that he was determined to lead the country during the tough economic times ahead. “No doubt people will continue to beat me up – and say this or that and to attack me. That’s fine, that’s quite right. That is the job of politicians. In the end voters, journalists – they have no one else to make their complaints to. I have to take that,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times