Blow to British PM's majority after Wales by-election

Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Dodds (centre) celebrating with Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey and her team after winning the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election yesterday. Her victory reduces British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's working majority in P
Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Dodds (centre) celebrating with Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey and her team after winning the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election yesterday. Her victory reduces British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's working majority in Parliament to just one, ahead of an expected showdown with lawmakers over his plan to take Britain out of the EU on Oct 31 without an exit agreement, if necessary. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LLANELWEDD (Wales) • Britain's pro-EU Liberal Democrats won the parliamentary seat of Brecon and Radnorshire from the governing Conservatives yesterday, in a blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his first electoral test since taking office.

The vote was triggered when Conservative lawmaker Chris Davies was ousted by a petition of constituents after being convicted of falsifying expenses.

Liberal Democrat candidate Jane Dodds won with 13,826 votes. Mr Davies ran again for the Conservatives and came in second with 12,401 votes. The Brexit Party was third with 3,331 votes, while the main opposition Labour Party was fourth with 1,680 votes.

The loss reduces Mr Johnson's working majority in Parliament to just one, ahead of an expected showdown with lawmakers over his plan to take Britain out of the European Union on Oct 31 without an exit agreement, if necessary.

Mr Johnson's government already relies on the support of a small Northern Irish party for its wafer-thin majority, with just a handful of rebels in his own Conservatives needed to lose key votes.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, whose party now has 13 seats in Parliament, said in a statement: "Boris Johnson's shrinking majority makes it clear that he has no mandate to crash us out of the EU.

"I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit and offer an alternative, positive vision... We now have one more MP who will vote against Brexit in Parliament."

Wales - and the Brecon area - voted to leave the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum, but it is also a region where sheep outnumber people and where the prospect of steep EU tariffs being slapped on Welsh lamb exports in a no-deal Brexit has prompted widespread concern among farmers.

Mr Johnson, who took office last week, has said that he does not plan to hold an election before Britain leaves the EU, but could be forced to if lawmakers try to stop him pursuing a no-deal exit by collapsing the government in a no-confidence vote.

The result in Brecon, where the combined vote for pro-leave parties outnumbered pro-remain, would likely add to calls for a possible Conservative-Brexit Party alliance in any upcoming election.

Pro-EU parties, including the Greens and Plaid Cymru, agreed not to stand in the Brecon election on Thursday to boost the Liberal Democrats' chances by concentrating the support of "remain" voters behind one candidate.

The Brexit Party was launched only in April and rode a wave of anger over the government's failure to deliver Brexit to sweep to victory in Britain's European Parliament election in May.

"If the Brexit Party does hang around and the Conservative Party doesn't deal with it effectively, that is, if we don't show signs that we are leaving Europe by the end of October, then that could really have some repercussions for our vote not just in seats like this, but across the United Kingdom," Mr Nick Ramsay, a Conservative member of the Welsh Assembly, told Sky News.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2019, with the headline 'Blow to British PM's majority after Wales by-election'. Print Edition | Subscribe