'Boris, the party is over': Lib Dem North Shropshire by-election win piles pressure on PM

17 December 2021, 05:35 | Updated: 17 December 2021, 10:04

By Sophie Barnett

The Conservatives have lost an ultra-safe seat in the North Shropshire by-election following a humiliating defeat by the Liberal Democrats that will pile further pressure on Boris Johnson.

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Lib Dem Helen Morgan was declared the winner in the North Shropshire by-election in the early hours of Friday morning, defeating the Tories by 5,925 votes in the ballot triggered by the resignation of Owen Paterson.

Ms Morgan won 17,957 votes, trouncing Tory candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst into second on 12,032.

After her victory, she said: "Tonight, the people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people.

"They have said loudly and clearly: 'Boris Johnson, the party is over'. Your government, run on lies and bluster, will be held accountable. It will be scrutinised, it will be challenged and it can and will be defeated."

Mr Paterson, who resigned last month following the sleaze scandal, had a near-23,000 majority in the 2019 general election when the Prime Minister achieved a landslide, but support has evaporated as the Tories battle damning allegations.

The humiliating defeat comes after the embattled Prime Minister has been battered by claims of lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street and sleaze allegations against his MPs.

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Liberal Democrat candidate Helen Morgan has won the North Shropshire by-election.
Liberal Democrat candidate Helen Morgan has won the North Shropshire by-election. Picture: Alamy

In her victory speech, Ms Morgan hit out at Boris Johnson, saying his government "runs on lies and bluster" and "will be held accountable".

"Tonight, the people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people. They have said loudly and clearly, 'Boris Johnson, the party is over'," Ms Morgan said.

"Your Government, run on lies and bluster, will be held accountable. It will be scrutinised, it will be challenged and it can and will be defeated."

Leaving the election count in defeat, Mr Shastri-Hurst was asked if Boris Johnson was to blame for the dismal result.

"We've run a positive campaign here, I'm extremely proud of the work that everybody's done. Of course it's a disappointing result for us," he told reporters.

Asked if the party needs to change, he said: "We're 11 years into a Conservative Government, by-elections are never an easy thing to do."

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Helen Morgan of the Liberal Democrats makes a speech after being declared the winner in the North Shropshire by-election.
Helen Morgan of the Liberal Democrats makes a speech after being declared the winner in the North Shropshire by-election. Picture: Alamy

North Shropshire had returned a Tory MP in every vote since 1983, which was the constituency's first election in its current form.

In 2019, the Tories won 62.7% of the vote and held the seat with a majority of 22,949 over Labour.

Ms Morgan came third with just 10% of the vote when facing Mr Paterson in the general election.

Mr Paterson represented the constituency for 24 years until his resignation after the Prime Minister's botched attempt to shield him from a 30-day suspension.

Mr Johnson attempted to force a Tory-led review of the rules for MPs after Mr Paterson was found to have breached lobbying rules for two companies paying him £100,000 a year.

Read more: Starmer labels Paterson sleaze scandal as 'government corruption'

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Conservative Party candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst after the declaration of the North Shropshire by-election at Shrewsbury Sports Village.
Conservative Party candidate Neil Shastri-Hurst after the declaration of the North Shropshire by-election at Shrewsbury Sports Village. Picture: Alamy

Multiple fresh allegations of sleaze were levelled at the Tories during the row and ultimately the MP was forced to resign, saying he wanted to escape the "cruel world of politics".

Asked on Wednesday if Mr Johnson would quit if North Shropshire falls, the Prime Minister's press secretary said: "We are fighting for every vote."

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, in a statement from isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, said: "This result is a watershed moment in our politics and offers hope to people around the country that a brighter future is possible.

"Millions of people are fed up with Boris Johnson and his failure to provide leadership throughout the pandemic and last night the voters of North Shropshire spoke for all of them.

"From Buckinghamshire to Shropshire, lifelong Conservatives have turned to the Liberal Democrats in their droves and sent a clear message to the Prime Minister that the party is over."

The turnout in North Shropshire was 46.3%, or 38,110 voters.