Mr Johnson’s leadership has been rocked while he is out of the country, with the Prime Minister currently in Rwanda as he attends the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The resignation of Mr Dowden will inevitably spark speculation on whether other senior Tory figures could quit.
The last time a government lost two by-elections on the same night was more than 30 years ago when Sir John Major was the Prime Minister.
The loss in Tiverton is particularly humiliating for the Prime Minister as it is the biggest ever majority to be overturned in a UK by-election. The record was held by Labour, which toppled a 23,927 Tory majority in Liverpool Wavertree in 1935.
On a balmy night in south Devon, Lib Dem candidate Richard Foord, a former army major, wiped out a colossal 24,239 majority to win a seat the Tories had held ever since its creation in 1997.
The result also surpasses the Lib Dems’ previous best showing, which came last year when they claimed North Shropshire, which the Conservatives had held by 22,949.
In Wakefield, the Tories lost a ‘Red Wall’ seat they had taken from Labour in 2019 in a comfortable victory for Sir Keir Starmer’s party.
‘Shockwave through British politics’
Mr Foord ended up with 22,537 votes after widespread tactical voting saw Labour, which came runner-up at the last election, lose its deposit.
In his victory speech Mr Foord said the result would “send a shockwave through British politics”.
To loud cheers he said: “Tonight, the people of Tiverton and Honiton have spoken for Britain. They’ve sent a loud and clear message: It’s time for Boris Johnson to go. And go now.
“Every day Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect. Communities like ours are on their knees.
“I also have a simple message for those Conservative MPs propping up this failing Prime Minister: The Liberal Democrats are coming.”