London: In a setback to UK Prime Minister Theresa May, a eurosceptic lawmaker today registered a massive victory in the by-election in a posh London suburb, indicating a rebuke over the government’s plans to pull Britain out of the EU.
Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, who fought on an anti-Brexit platform, overturned a whopping 23,015 majority of the ruling Conservative party in South West London.
She defeated Zac Goldsmith, brother of Jemima Goldsmith Khan – ex-wife of Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, by polling 20,510 votes, compared to his 18,638. Goldsmith had held the seat for May’s Conservative party since 2010.
In contrast to the rest of the country, London had voted for Remain in the June 23 referendum, with Richmond a strong pro-Remain constituency.
“The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear – we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win,” Olney said in her victory speech.
Goldsmith had triggered the by-election after he resigned from the Conservative party in October to stand as an Independent to keep his manifesto pledge to protest the government’s decision to back a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
The area of Richmond would be directly affected by an expansion of the airport nearby. Labour’s Christian Wolmar lost his 500-pound deposit as he trailed a distant third.
The other five candidates, including British Kashmiri Ankit Love from the One Love party, also lost their deposits as they did not receive a big enough share of the vote. The Conservative Party, UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Green Party did not field candidates in the by-poll.
“This was not just about a Remain versus Leave rerun – this was about people trying to say to [British Prime Minister] Theresa May, ‘We do not like the extreme version of Brexit outside the single market you’re taking us down’,” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said.
“The other thing that was clearly a concern to voters was they desperately wanted a moderate, decent alternative to the Tories now Labour has shuffled off the main stage – and they were delighted to give the Liberal Democrats the opportunity to be just that,” he added.
Goldsmith, who had campaigned for Leave in the June referendum, quit as the Tory MP for the constituency in October so he could fight a by-election, held yesterday, as an Independent on an anti-Heathrow Airport expansion ticket.
It was a promise that I made and it was a promise that I kept. I wish Sarah well in her very, very important job and I hope she serves this community as well as this community deserves,” he said after his defeat.
A Conservative Party spokesperson said the result would make no difference to Brexit plans. “This result doesn’t change anything. The government remains committed to leaving the European Union and triggering Article 50 by the end of March next year,” he said.