The result in pro-Remain Richmond Park changes nothing – the UK voted for Brexit and it will not be derailed

The result in pro-Remain Richmond Park changes nothing – the UK voted for Brexit and it will not be derailed

Against the odds, the Liberal Democrats have overnight pulled off a gain in the Richmond Park by-election – a seat that prior to 2010, when won by then Conservative Zac Goldsmith, they had held since 1997.

Throughout the campaign, the Lib Dems threw the kitchen sink at trying to get their candidate, Sarah Olney, elected. One friend living in the constituency informed me that he had received well over ten leaflets from Olney’s campaign compared to Zac Goldsmith’s five, including what purported to be a handwritten two-sided letter from the candidate in a personally addressed envelope.

Zac Goldsmith, running now as an Independent after quitting the Commons to fight the contest in protest at plans for a third runway at Heathrow, did not have a party machine behind him. Whilst he benefited from the lack of an official Conservative rival and a UKIP challenger, he was forced to rely on a limited pool of faithful supporters for the printing, production and distribution of his campaign material. The Lib Dems flocked from across the country, while their party HQ pumped out regular press releases and swishy social media memes. They were also backed up by the pro-EU Green Party who chose not to put up a candidate.

As the campaign progressed, Olney realised there was an opportunity to exploit local resentment at the outcome of the EU referendum. While she started off by saying she respected the result, she quickly realised that by pledging outright to vote against Brexit, she had an issue on which she might be able to trump her rival. Within no time, the Liberal Democrats labelled themselves the anti-Brexit party and stuck with that theme.

Given that some 70% or so of the local electorate had voted in favour of remaining in the EU, it is hardly surprising that the Lib Dems chose to focus on that overtly pro-EU message – particularly as Prime Minister May’s deadline for triggering Article 50 looms nearer. Zac Goldsmith had been open in his support for Brexit and had obviously hoped to keep voters focused on Heathrow and his local record instead.

I daresay both the Liberal Democrats and die-hard supporters of the European Union will be insufferable as they brag about this result for as long as anyone will listen. But while they will undoubtedly use this victory to peddle their anti-Brexit agenda, we must not be distracted by meaningless spin. Yes, a heavily-Remain area voted for an anti-Brexit candidate in a by-election; but nationally, the electorate are of an increasingly different mindset. According to YouGov, 68% of people support getting on with carrying out Brexit (and ICM polling puts the Liberal Democrats’ national support at a mere 7%).

Next week, there will be another by-election in the rural Lincolnshire seat of Sleaford and North Hykeham. The Conservative candidate, Dr Caroline Johnson, supported Leave in the referendum and is running on a pro-Brexit platform while also focusing on local issues. While nothing can ever be taken for granted, I imagine that the local electorate there – of whom some 62% voted Leave – will warm to her position. In fact, the Liberal Democrat candidate there actually wrote on a Lib Dem blog recently asking party activists to focus on Richmond rather than Sleaford.

However overexcited Tim Farron gets in the next few days, this one by-election result does not somehow make June’s referendum result null and void. It doesn’t justify blocking the Government from carrying out the will of the British people. It’s like that annoying person who, after losing a game, keeps on at you; ever trying to redefine the rules to somehow win and reverse the defeat. They hope that after enough of a tantrum and by going on at you for long enough, you’ll just let them have it for the sake of an easy life.

We must not be drawn in by this. The people of this country voted to leave the European Union and that’s final. That means regaining full sovereignty, taking back control of our borders and rejecting the failed Euro-federalist project. We must continue talking up Britain and preparing for our departure.