The Liberal Democrats have won the Richmond Park by-election, pulling off one of most spectacular political upsets of recent years and denting the Conservatives’ narrow majority in the House of Commons.
The Lib Dem candidate Sarah Olney defeated former Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, overturning his 23,000 majority, at last year’s general election, to win by 1,800 votes.
The by-election was called after Mr Goldsmith quit as a Tory MP in protest over plans to build a new runway at Heathrow airport.
However it swiftly became a vote about Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, which put Mr Goldsmith, who backed Brexit, at a disadvantage against Mrs Olney, a Remainer.
The LibDems’ victory – the party’s first by-election gain for a decade – means that the prospect of Prime Minister Theresa May calling an early general election next year is receding.
It also cuts the Conservatives’ majority in the House of Commons to just 12, which will make it harder for Mrs May to push contentious measures through Parliament.
Tim Farron, the LibDem leader, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he hoped the by-election would “change the course” of the Government over Brexit.
He said that the result was a “referendum on the deal” Britain will strike to leave the EU and claimed the party had won the support of Conservatives who have voted to leave the EU on June 23.
The Tories responded by saying that the result does not change anything and Britain will leave the EU.
The result is a boost for Mr Farron – who has struggled to make his mark since replacing Nick Clegg last year – and embarrassing for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn after Mr Wolmar lost his deposit.
Although Labour will argue that there was evidence the party’s supporters deserted Mr Wolmar to back Ms Olney and ensure that Mr Goldsmith was not returned to Parliament.
Mrs Olney, 39, an accountant who only joined the party in May last year, won 20,510 votes compared to Mr Goldsmith’s 18,638. Labour’s candidate, Christian Wolmar, got just 1,515 votes.
Sarah Olney: This paves way for ‘overriding’ Brexit vote
The new Lib Dem MP said the outcome had sent a “shockwave” through Downing Street and paved the way for Parliament to “override” the EU withdrawal referendum result.
She told Sky News: “It does look now as if we can have a vote in Parliament that might override the referendum. And I will, obviously, be voting to Remain because that is always what I have believed.”
The result was a rejection of the “politics of anger and division”, she said: “We will defend the Britain we love. We will stand up for the open tolerant, united Britain we believe in.”
She said: “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.”
Zac Goldsmith stands by decision to trigger by-election
Mr Goldsmith stood by his decision to resign, triggering the by-election. He said: “This by-election that we just had was not a political calculation, it was a promise that I made and it was a promise that I kept.”
Following his decision to quit over plans to build another runway at Heathrow, the Conservatives announced it would not put forward a candidate to challenge the Richmond Park seat.
The LibDems tried -with evident success – to switch the focus of the campaign to Brexit in the staunchly Remain constituency.
A North Kingston resident for six years, Ms Olney is a qualified accountant and works at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. She is also chairman of North Kingston Liberal Democrats.
Pressed on the first things she will begin working on as an MP, she said: “Brexit and Heathrow were the two key things we fought this campaign on, so those are the two priorities when I get into parliament.”
Ms Olney said she now wanted Parliament to “override” the Brexit referendum.
Watch | Zac Goldsmith’s career in 60 seconds
Asked if she would actively resist Brexit as an MP, she said: “Absolutely. Now I’ve been given this mandate.”
Ms Olney said her dramatic victory was a rejection of the “Ukip vision” of Britain, and the politics of “anger and division”.
She told supporters: “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.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Eurosceptic Tory MP, told the Today programme that the by-election had been a verdict on Brexit by a constituency which voted to Remain at the last election.
Conservative Party: By-election result does not change Brexit
A Conservative Party spokesman said the result would make no difference to Brexit plans and offered “commiserations” to Mr Goldsmith.
He said: “Zac has been a strong and principled champion for the residents of Richmond Park and North Kingston over the past six years as their Member of Parliament, and a popular figure in the Conservative Party. We are sorry that he is no longer in the House of Commons.
“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. In addition, we will continue to take decisive action in the national interest to secure the UK’s place the world – supporting a third runway at Heathrow to secure jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond.”
The victory takes the LibDems’ MPs to nine in the Commons. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader who will visit the constituency today to mark the first big political win of his time as leader , said the “message is clear”.
He said: “The Liberal Democrats are back and we are carrying the torch for all of those who want a real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government.
“We are the only party fighting to keep Britain open, tolerant and united, and the only party that has said, loudly and proudly, that we want Britain to remain a member of the Single Market and that we want the people to be given the final say over the Brexit deal. That message has been resoundingly backed by the people of Richmond Park.”
Tags: Brexit, Britain, Britain's decision to leave the European Union, cuts the Conservatives’ majority in the House of Commons to just 12, Liberal Democrats, new runway at Heathrow airport, Prime Minister Theresa May, Richmond Park by-election, Sarah Olney, Sarah Olney defeated former Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, Single Market, UK