The crushing rejection of Zac Goldsmith at the Richmond Park by-election was an explicit rejection of “hard Brexit”, the Mayor of London has said.
Sadiq Khan downplayed Labour’s poor result in the seat and said local voters had made their voters on the EU clear by rejecting the anti-EU former Tory MP.
“Richmond Park has never had a Labour Member of Parliament, the MP’s always been a Tory or a Lib Dem,” he told Sky News in an interview on Friday afternoon.
“It’s for others to analyse why these voters rejected Zac Goldsmith. I’m quite clear, though, that the voters of Richmond Park have rejected hard Brexit.”
Hard Brexit is the idea that the UK would impose border controls and leave the European single market after it left the EU. It is contrasted with Soft Brexit, where the UK would leave the bloc’s political institutions but retain current close economic relations.
The Mayor has called for London to get its own Brexit deal, arguing that EU workers could get special work permits to work in the Greater London area, which he is responsible for.
London voted strongly to Remain in the EU but is set to be forced out of the bloc based on the voters of other parts of the country. Similar scenarios loom in other parts of the country such as Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Mr Khan’s interpretation of Thursday’s by-election result is supported by a survey of Richmond Park voters conducted by the pollster BMG.
The poll found that the most important issue for the most voters was Brexit, with the second most popular issue the views of the local candidates.
Heathrow airport expansion was third placed in terms of local voters’ concerns, the survey conducted in late October found – despite an attempt by Mr Goldsmith’s campaign team to make the issue central to the discussion.
All the main candidates at the by-election were opposed to Heathrow expansion, meaning the issue was largely neutralised.
Former Tory Cabinet minister Michael Gove however said the result was not a mandate to reject Brexit
“I think it would be a mistake for [the new Lib Dem MP] or anyone else to interpret this as any sort of mandate to frustrate the will of the British people,” he also said on Friday.
Mr Goldsmith, who has held the seat since 2010, was defeated by Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney on a massive swing.
The ousted MP, who was heavily criticised for running a “racist” campaign for Mayor of London earlier this year, had voluntarily stepped down to trigger the by-election in protest over the Government’s decision to build a third runway at Heathrow airport.
A Conservative party spokesperson said: “This result doesn’t change anything.” Brexit campaign Leave.EU’s Andy Wigmore said: “This changes nothing”.
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