Conservatives Hold Pro-Brexit Seat of Sleaford in U.K. By-Election

  • Labour slump from second place to fourth in eastern district
  • Follows Liberal Democrat victory in pro-EU Richmond last week

Caroline Johnson in Sleaford on Dec. 9.

Photographer: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party held the eastern English district of Sleaford in a House of Commons by-election forced after one of her lawmakers resigned over her handling of the U.K.’s departure from the European Union.

Caroline Johnson, a local doctor, won 53.5 percent of the vote, with the U.K. Independence Party’s Victoria Ayling on 13.5 percent in second place. UKIP was aiming to eat into the Conservatives’ majority in the constituency, where May’s party won 56 percent of the vote in last year’s general election compared with UKIP’s 16 percent, by pledging to force Britain into a “hard” Brexit.

“I look forward to strengthening the government’s majority in Parliament so Theresa May, our prime minister, can get on with the job of triggering Article 50, leaving the European Union and building a country and economy that works for everyone,” Johnson said after her victory, with 17,570 votes out of a total 32,834, was announced.

Voters in the constituency backed leaving the EU by 62 percent in the June referendum. The vote was the second electoral test of May’s strategy in a week after voters in Richmond, southwest London, backed a Liberal Democrat who promised to do everything she can to keep Britain in the bloc.

Tory lawmaker Stephen Phillips quit as member of the Commons for Sleaford on Nov. 4, citing “irreconcilable policy differences” with May over her wish to exit the bloc without going through Parliament. A lawyer who had campaigned for Brexit, his resignation came on the day the Daily Mail newspaper denounced as “Enemies of the People” three judges who ruled the government would need parliamentary approval to trigger the divorce.

Conservative lawmakers traveled to campaign in the seat, an agricultural area of Lincolnshire where there are a large number of immigrants from Europe working in the fields and food-processing factories.

The main opposition Labour Party, which came second in the general election with 17 percent of the vote, finished in fourth place, behind the Liberal Democrats, in the by-election. “Clearly for us, this was not the result we might have hoped for,” Vernon Coaker, a senior Labour member of Parliament, said. The Brexit debate had overwhelmed his party’s campaign on health care, Coaker said.

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