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Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has called for Boris Johnson to go after the prime minister suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election.
The Conservatives lost the previously ultra-safe, Brexit-backing seat to the Lib Dems, with Richard Foord winning by more than 6,000 votes in a seat where the party came third in 2019.
The 24,000 deficit is believed to be the largest majority ever overturned in a by-election.
Speaking after the historic result, Mr Davey told Sky News: ‘It’s a huge victory for the Liberal Democrats, we’re very excited, but it’s a big issue for our country.
‘I think the people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken for the British people and I think they’ve said loud and clear that Boris Johnson must go.
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has called for Boris Johnson to go after the prime minister suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election
The Liberal Democrat leader said the vote shows the public disaffection with the current government
Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain (left) and leader Sir Ed Davey celebrate with Richard Foord in front of their new prop blue door
‘When we were talking to people on the doorsteps, they do see him as a lying lawbreaker and they see him as someone who doesn’t have a plan for our country that’s suffering in the chaos and the cost of living crisis, with an NHS that isn’t getting properly supported.
‘So Liberal Democrats put our positive message to people, they backed us in their droves and I think they want me to come on to your programme and say to the government, Boris Johnson must go.’
Mr Johnson has acknowledged that the results are ‘tough’ but vowed to ‘keep going’ – despite the losses dealing another blow to his authority.
Some 270 miles to the north east from Tiverton, the Tories also ceded Wakefield to Labour after holding the Red Wall seat for just three years, with Simon Lightwood winning a near-5,000 majority in a vote called after the previous Tory MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, was jailed for child sex offences.
Cabinet allies are scrambling to shore up Johnson today as he vowed to ‘keep going’ despite Tory chair Oliver Dowden dramatically quitting.
In a letter hours after seismic results in Tiverton and Wakefield, Oliver Dowden said he shared the ‘distress’ of activists about the run of bad results
The prime minister is more than 4,000 miles away at a Commonwealth summit in Rwanda.
It has emerged that he went swimming at his hotel in Kigali immediately after learning of the defeats, with sources admitting he was then ‘blindsided’ by the outgoing minister’s decision.
Mr Dowden delivered what appeared to be a coded attack on the PM, saying the party cannot continue with ‘business as usual’.
Rather than stating his continuing loyalty to the premier in his resignation letter, Mr Dowden said he ‘remains loyal to the Conservative Party’. Aides did not respond to questions about whether he still supports Mr Johnson as leader.
Senior figures mobilised to limit the damage this morning, with deputy PM Dominic Raab insisting the party must ‘relentlessly focus’ on policy and Priti Patel saying the government is ‘cracking on with the task’.
No10 made clear Mr Johnson will not be cutting short his nine-day foreign tour, which is also slated to include G7 meetings in Germany and a Nato gathering in Spain, to deal with the crisis.
In seismic results in the early hours of this morning, the Conservatives lost two seats in West Yorkshire and Devon by large margins after months of sleaze and economic woe that have bedevilled Mr Johnson’s premiership.
But Mr Dowden’s exit – which came just minutes before he was due to start broadcast interviews and at the least paves the way for a reshuffle – ratchets up pressure following the bombshell results in West Yorkshire and Devon.
The contests were lost by large margins after months of sleaze and economic woe that have bedevilled Mr Johnson’s premiership.
A Tory MP close to Mr Dowden told MailOnline that he had ‘done the right thing for the party’. ‘Somebody needed to leave the Cabinet,’ they said. The senior MP said the outgoing minister had recognised he could not ‘polish a t***’, adding: ‘I’m afraid we have got a t*** of a government.’
Veteran MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who is on the executive of the powerful 1922 Committee, said his colleagues would wait to see if there was a ‘satisfactory’ response from Mr Johnson, or whether they needed to take ‘steps’ to replace him.
Another Conservative, Roger Gale – a serial critic of the PM – said Mr Dowden ‘can no longer defend the indefensible’.
In worrying signs for the Tories, the electoral blows were facilitated by an effective electoral pact between the opposition parties. Labour barely campaigned in Tiverton and gained so few votes it lost its deposit, and the same was true for the Lib Dems in Wakefield.