Boris Johnson has suffered a major blow after the Tories were beaten by the Liberal Democrats in the Brecon and Radnorshire byelection.
The victory for Jane Dodds means the new prime minister’s working majority in the House of Commons has been cut to just one. It will be seized on as a sign voters are concerned by Boris Johnson’s pledge to leave the EU without a deal if he deems it necessary.
The Liberal Democrats won 13,826 votes with the Conservatives taking 12,401, a margin of 1,425 that overturned the Tories’ previous majority of more than 8,000. It was a sobering night for the Labour party (1,680 votes), which was beaten into fourth place by the Brexit party (3,331), and only just held on to its deposit. Ukip (242) came last behind the Monster Raving Loony party (334).
In her acceptance speech, Dodds said: “I am incredibly humbled by the support. From every walk of life and every political persuasion, people have chosen to believe in my positive liberal vision for something better.
“And by backing that liberal vision, people in Brecon and Radnorshire have sent a powerful message to Westminster: we demand better.”
She continued: “People are desperately crying out for a different kind of politics. There is no time for tribalism when our country is faced with a Boris Johnson government and the threat of a no-deal Brexit.
“My very first act as your MP when I arrive in Westminster will be to find Mr Boris Johnson, wherever he’s hiding, and tell him loud and clear: stop playing with the futures of our communities and rule out a no-deal Brexit.”
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, who visited the constituency four times in the run-up to the byelection, said the results showed that the country didn’t have to settle for Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn.
“Boris Johnson’s shrinking majority makes it clear that he has no mandate to crash us out of the EU. As leader of the Liberal Democrats, I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit and offer an alternative, positive vision for a richer, greener and safer future. Britain demands better than what the tired old parties can give.”
Swinson also thanked Plaid Cymru and the Green party for not contesting this byelection so as to avoid splitting the remain vote.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem MP for Kingston and Surbiton, called it “a huge result”, adding: “The Brecon and Radnorshire byelection was the front line of the stop Brexit campaign. This is going to make Boris Johnson’s job that much more difficult, and for those of us who are desperate to stop Brexit it’s a crucial moment.”
The leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, said: “The people of Brecon and Radnorshire have spoken. It’s now time that people throughout these islands are heard, too, in a final say referendum.
“But if the prime minister is intent on a general election, he should know that Plaid Cymru and the other pro-remain parties are committed to cooperating so that we beat Brexit once and for all.”
The byelection in mid-Wales was called following the ousting from parliament of the Tory MP Chris Davies after he was found guilty of submitting a false expenses claim. Despite the scandal, Davies was chosen to stand again.
After the result Davies congratulated Dodds and wished her well for the future. He also paid tribute to his family, saying they had had “a difficult time over the past few months”. Earlier he said his party had run a “clean and positive” campaign but claimed: “Sadly a few of our competitors have led a dirty campaign.”
Professor Roger Awan-Scully, the head of politics and international relations at Cardiff University, said the Tory vote held up reasonably well. “Until a few days ago people were talking seriously about the Brexit party pushing the Conservatives into third,” he said. “They’ve done well resisting the pressure from the Brexit party. It hasn’t quite been good enough this time round but whenever we get a general election, which might not be far away, this seat is very much in play for the Conservatives.”
Awan-Scully said it had been a dreadful night for Labour. “There’s lots of dissatisfaction with Jeremy Corbyn, lots of dissatisfaction with the direction of the party. In its ultimate historic bastion of Wales I think Labour is in some serious trouble.”
Tory grandees including the Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, toured the constituency during the campaign. Johnson also visited Brecon earlier this week but did not venture into the town centre, leaving onlookers who had waited for him in the rain angry and frustrated.
The election of Dodds brings the total number of Swinson’s party members in the Commons to 13.
During the campaign farming became a key issue, with union officials warning that farmers could carry out acts of civil disobedience if the UK leaves the EU with no deal. Appropriately the count was held at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells.
Davies had represented the seat for the Conservatives since 2015. The Liberal Democrats held the constituency from 1997 to 2015.