LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May's ruling Conservative Party retained a parliamentary seat in a strongly pro-Brexit area on Friday, heading off a challenge from the anti-EU UK Independence Party.
The victory of Caroline Johnson, who won 17,570 votes in Sleaford and North Hykeham in eastern England, was never much in doubt - the seat has long been a Conservative stronghold, and will boost support for May's plans to leave the European Union.
But the vote also underlined the electoral difficulties facing Britain's main opposition Labour Party, which slipped from second place in the 2015 election to fourth place, winning just 3,300 votes. Labour is trailing the ruling Conservative Party in opinion polls by 14 points at 28 percent.
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"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 in her acceptance speech.
The contest was triggered by the resignation last month of Conservative lawmaker Stephen Phillips over "irreconcilable policy differences" with May's government.
He had voted to leave the European Union but before he resigned he had attacked May's handling of Brexit, which the prime minister said she would get under way by the end of March by triggering Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty.
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper, editing by James Davey)