Boris Johnson takes 'personal responsibility' for North Shropshire by-election defeat

"They've said loudly and clearly: Boris Johnson, the party is over," the Lib Dems said following their win. ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports on the reaction in North Shropshire

Boris Johnson said he takes “personal responsibility” for the Tories’ North Shropshire by-election defeat as he appeared to blame the media for distracting voters with reports of Christmas parties and sleaze allegations.

He acknowledged people felt "frustrated" but said the issue was not with alleged parties during Covid lockdowns at Downing Street, but that the topic had distracted from the issues that "really matter to people".

Asked which issues while he has been in charge were to blame for the Conservatives' defeat, the PM said: “I think that people are frustrated and I understand that… Basically what’s been going wrong… is that in the last few weeks some things have been going very well, but what the people have been hearing… is just a constant litany of stuff about politics and politicians and stuff that isn’t about them and isn’t about the things that we can do to make life better."

“I totally understand people’s frustrations. I hear what the voters are saying in North Shropshire" - Boris Johnson says he "accepts the verdict" after by-election defect in a previously safe seat.

Speaking at a vaccination centre at Hillingdon Hospital in London, Mr Johnson continued: “And so to that extent, of course, you’re right – and I think the job of the government is to make people like you… interested in the booster rollout and in skills, and in housing, and in everything else that we’re doing."

He said: "I've got to put my hands up and say, 'Have I failed to get that message across in the last few weeks? Has it been obscured by all this other stuff?' Yes, I'm afraid that it has."

Mr Johnson said he needs to “fix” issues like the reported Number 10 parties and the funding of the refurbishment of the No 10 flat.

“Those questions are exactly the kind of questions about politics and politicians and all those kind of things, the running of government, that I’m going to have to fix of course,” he said.

In one of the most comprehensive by-election defeats in recent decades, the Conservatives lost what was an ultra-safe seat to Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan by 5,925 votes.

The swing to the Lib Dems - a massive 34% - in the ballot triggered by the resignation of Owen Paterson after the prime minister attempted to save his friend from being punished for breaking lobbying rules.

“I’ve got to put my hands up and say ‘have I failed to get that message across in the last few weeks? Has it been obscured by all this other stuff?’ Yes, I’m afraid it has" - Mr Johnson says he has not been able to focus on the things that "really matter" to people

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.

The stinging defeat in a by-election for what has traditionally been a safe Tory seat is likely to give momentum to a Tory leadership bid.

The prime minister has been mired in scandal these past few weeks and his popularity with voters has nose dived.

"Is this the beginning of the end for Boris Johnson?" asks Political Correspondent Libby Wiener on a "political earthquake"

This week alone saw a major rebellion in the Commons over Covid-19 measures as fresh allegations emerged of a pizza party held in Downing Street during the first lockdown, while the police said they would make contact with two people who attended a gathering at Conservative Party HQ in December last year.

Mr Johnson continues to deny Downing Street staff held a Christmas party in Number 10 during lockdown, despite ITV News' report that showed, in a leaked recording, senior Downing Street staff joking about holding a Christmas party in Number 10 just four days after the event is alleged to have taken place.

Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan makes her speech after her stunning by-election win Credit: Jacob King/PA

A investigation by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case into events alleged to have taken place in Downing Street and the Department for Education in November and December 2020 continues.

The Conservative Party leader also faces allegations that he misled his ethics adviser over what he knew about a controversial and expensive refurbishment of his No 11 flat.

On Friday morning, Conservative Party chair Oliver Dowden said voters' frustration had been heard “loud and clear”, as the Tories received “a kicking”.

After the revolt earlier in the week, when 100 Tory MPs rebelled over the latest Covid restrictions, veteran backbencher Sir Roger Gale warned the prime minister is living on borrowed time.

“I think this has to be seen as a referendum on the prime minister’s performance and I think that the Prime minister is now in ‘last orders time,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Two strikes already = one earlier this week in the vote in the Commons and now this. One more strike and he’s out.”