“ONE more strike and he’s out”: This was one veteran Tory backbencher’s verdict on Boris Johnson after the party’s stunning defeat in the North Shropshire by-election.

The ultra-safe Conservative seat, previously held by scandal hit Owen Paterson, was taken by the LibDems who sailed to victory by 5925 voters – overturning the former minister’s near-23,000 majority.

“Tonight, the people of North Shropshire have spoken on behalf of the British people. They have said loudly and clearly, ‘Boris Johnson, the party is over’,” LibDem victor Helen Morgan said in her victory speech.

The National:

This warning did not go unheard by the Conservative Party.

While Tory chairman Oliver Dowden acknowledged the voters had given them a good “kicking”, he insisted Johnson has what it takes to get the party through a difficult period.

Backbenchers were not so quick to defend Johnson. Sir Roger Gale, a seasoned Conservative MP, warned the Prime Minister he is now 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 the BBC Radio 4 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.

“The Conservative Party has a reputation for not taking prisoners. If the prime minister fails, the prime minister goes.

“We got rid of a good prime minister to install Mr Johnson.

“Mr Johnson has to prove that he’s capable of being a good prime minister and at the moment it’s quite clear that the public don’t think that that’s the case.”

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Under party rules, the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, is required to call a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister if 54 Tory MPs submit a letter to him calling for one.

However, another backbencher, Sir Charles Walker, said it was not the time for a leadership contest.

“The Conservative Party is not going to have a leadership challenge as we are heading into potential further restrictions around Covid and difficulties around Covid,” he told the Today programme.

“That would be completely self-indulgent.”

Speaking on Friday afternoon, Johnson said he takes “personal responsibility” for the North Shropshire by-election loss.

Speaking at a vaccination centre at Hillingdon Hospital in London, Johnson said: “I’m responsible for everything that the Government does and of course I take personal responsibility.”

Asked which things going wrong under his watch were to blame for the defeat, he 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.

“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.

“And unfortunately, you’re totally right, we haven’t been able to get the focus on those issues.”