The Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, slashing Boris Johnson’s majority in the Commons to just one in his first electoral test as prime minister.
The defeat is a major blow for the new Brexiteer PM, who is likely to face crunch votes in parliament this autumn to stop a no-deal Brexit.
Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds won the mid-Wales constituency with 13,826 votes, beating the Conservative Party’s Chris Davies by a margin of 1,425 and overturning the Tories’ previous majority of more than 8,000.
The Labour Party came in fourth behind the Brexit Party, who won 3,331 votes.
Around 19% of his constituents – 10,005 eligible voters – signed a petition calling for the Tory MP to be removed from parliament after he was convicted over making false expense claims. Only 10% of local voters needed to back the move in order for it to succeed.
But despite the attempt to oust him, Davies was still chosen to stand for the Tory Party in a bid to win the seat.
The loss for the Tories – which comes just eight days after Johnson came into power – has weakened the new PM’s power in parliament and added to the challenges faced by his “do or die” plans for leaving the EU on October 31.
But cabinet minister James Cleverly defended the Conservatives’ performance, calling it “a very close result in a by-election in which the Lib Dems were expected to romp home comfortably”.
In her victory speech, Dodds said her first act as an MP would be to find the prime minister and tell him to rule out a no-deal Brexit.
“People are desperately crying out for a different kind of politics,” she told supporters at the count in the early hours of Friday morning. “There is no time for tribalism when our country is faced with a Boris Johnson government and the threat of a no-deal Brexit.
“So my very first act as your MP when I arrive in Westminster will be to find Boris Johnson wherever he is hiding and tell him loud and clear: ‘Stop playing with the future of our communities and rule out a no-deal Brexit now’.”
Meanwhile, newly-elected Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said the polls results showed that “the country doesn’t have to settle for Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn”.
She added: “Boris Johnson’s shrinking majority makes it clear that he has no mandate to crash us out of the EU.
The victory for the Lib Dems – who held the seat between 1997 and 2015 – comes amid an alliance between Remain parties in the constituency, with Plaid Cymru and the Greens deciding not to field candidates in the by-election in a bid to increase the chance of a Remain victory.
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said the “spirit of co-operation” between the pro-Remain parties had led to Dodds’s election, as he called for a second 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,” he added.