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Thursday December 12th, 2019 10:47AM

UK's Brexit Party narrowly defeated in key electoral test

By The Associated Press
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LONDON (AP) — Britain's upstart Brexit Party failed in its first attempt to win a seat in Parliament, narrowly losing early Friday to the left-of-center Labour Party in a special election.

Labour candidate Lisa Forbes won the Peterborough constituency in eastern England by 683 votes over the Brexit Party's Mike Greene.

Forbes said the Brexit Party's defeat "shows that the politics of division will not win," though Labour's share of the vote fell sharply from the last election in 2017.

The governing Conservative Party, in disarray over Brexit and engulfed in a leadership battle, came third.

Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down as Conservative leader later Friday, defeated by her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on schedule. She will remain as prime minister for a few weeks while the party picks a successor. So far, 11 Conservative lawmakers are jostling to replace her.

The election result is a blow to the momentum of the months-old Brexit Party led by veteran euroskeptic politician Nigel Farage, which wants Britain to leave the EU on the currently scheduled date of Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal.

That simple — critics say simplistic — message has resonated with Brexit-backing voters angry at the country's political deadlock. The party won almost a third of U.K. votes in last month's European Parliament election.

Farage's force was the bookies' favorite to win in Peterborough, a city that voted by 60% to leave the EU in Britain's 2016 Brexit referendum.

Despite the loss, Farage said the "massive result" showed that British politics had "fundamentally changed," with the stranglehold of big Conservative and Labour parties now broken.

In Thursday's vote in Peterborough — just as in last month's European election — both the Conservatives and Labour saw their vote share plummet, as voters on both sides of the Brexit divide punished them for the country's political impasse.

The beneficiaries are the Brexit Party and the strongly pro-EU Liberal Democrats and Greens, creating an unusually unstable and unpredictable political landscape.

Thursday's election was called after Peterborough's previous Labour lawmaker was jailed for lying about a speeding offense and then fired by a public petition.

___

Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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