British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday accepted his “personal responsibility” for a crushing defeat of his Conservative Party in a byelection, being dubbed a referendum on his leadership at Downing Street.
Liberal Democrat candidate Helen Morgan overturned a huge Tory party majority to win the Conservative stronghold seat of North Shropshire, sparked by the resignation of former member of Parliament Owen Paterson found to have broken ministerial lobbying rules.
The result comes at the end of ongoing criticism over alleged lockdown-breaching government parties and a House of Commons rebellion by Boris Johnson's parliamentarians over tougher Covid-19 measures.
"I am responsible for everything the government does and of course I take personal responsibility,” Johnson told reporters when asked about the byelection defeat.
"Clearly the vote in North Shropshire is a very disappointing result and I totally understand people's frustrations, I hear what the voters are saying in North Shropshire and in all humility I have got to accept that verdict,” he said.
Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden earlier admitted that his party had been given "a kicking" and delivered "a message" that the governing party had “heard that loud and clear".
It prompted Johnson’s critics within his own party to issue warnings that his leadership now hangs in the balance.
"One more strike and he's out," Tory Member of Parliament Sir Roger Gale told the BBC, adding that the byelection "has to be seen as a referendum on the Prime Minister's performance".
The byelection followed the resignation of Owen Paterson, the parliamentarian for North Shropshire since 1997, who was found to have breached parliamentary rules on lobbying.
In her victory speech, Morgan, who won by 5,925 votes, said: "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."
Her victory takes the number of Lib Dem members of Parliament up to 13. The party had lost dozens of its seats at the 2015 General Election following its coalition government with the David Cameron-led Conservatives.
The byelection came soon after Johnson faced off the biggest party rebellion of his leadership when 100 Conservative parliamentarians voted against the government's proposals to introduce COVID vaccine certificates as a compulsory requirement for entry to large venues in England as part of measures to curb the raging Omicron variant.
It also comes amid an ongoing internal investigation about alleged parties at 10 Downing Street and other government departments that were held in breach of lockdown rules towards the end of last year.