(LONDON) — Veteran politician Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party scored big gains in European elections, with his party and several anti-Brexit parties dooming the governing Conservative Party and opposition Labour to humiliating defeats.
With results announced early Monday for all of England and Wales, the Brexit Party had won 28 of the 73 British EU seats up for grabs and almost a third of the votes. The Liberal Democrats took about 20% of the vote and 15 seats — up from only one at the last EU election in 2014.
Labour came third with 10 seats, followed by the Greens with seven. The ruling Conservatives — apparently blamed by voters for failing to deliver Brexit in March as planned — were in fifth place with just three EU seats and under 10% of the vote.
The vote was more or less split between Farage’s pro-Brexit forces and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats and Greens — at the expense of the more established parties.
Farage’s Brexit Party was one of several nationalist and populist parties making gains across the continent in an election that saw an erosion of support for the traditionally dominant political parties.
A triumphant Farage said his party will “stun everybody” in the next British general election if the country still hasn’t left the European Union.
“We’re not just here to leave the European Union but to try and fundamentally change the shape of British politics, bring it into the 21st century and get a Parliament that better reflects the country,” he said.
Farage’s gains helped consign the Conservative Party to a dismal showing. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is contending to become party leader and prime minister, said it was a “painful result” and warned there was an “existential risk to our party unless we now come together and get Brexit done.”
The results reflect an electorate deeply divided over Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the EU, but united in anger at the two long-dominant parties, the Conservatives and Labour, who have brought the Brexit process to deadlock.
Some senior Labour figures said after the party’s weak performance that it must now take a strong stance in favour of a second referendum on Brexit, but party leader Jeremy Corbyn declined to make his position clear. He still says the country needs either a general election or a referendum on Brexit.
“With the Conservatives disintegrating and unable to govern, and parliament deadlocked, this issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote,” he said, promising more “conversations” in the coming days.
Britain is participating in the EU election because it is still a member of the bloc, but the lawmakers it elects will only sit in the European Parliament until the country leaves the EU, which is currently scheduled for Oct. 31.
Farage’s Brexit Party was officially launched in April and has only one policy: for Britain to leave the EU as soon as possible, even without a divorce agreement in place.
But the election leaves Britain’s EU exit ever more uncertain, with both Brexiteers and pro-EU “remainders” able to claim strong support. Labour and the Conservatives, who in different ways each sought a compromise Brexit, were hammered.
The result raises the likelihood of a chaotic “no deal” exit from the EU — but also of a new referendum that could reverse the decision to leave.
The Conservatives were punished for failing to take the country out of the EU on March 29 as promised, a failure that led Prime Minister Theresa May to announce Friday that she is stepping down from leading the party on June 7. Britain’s new prime minister will be whoever wins the Conservative party leadership race to replace her.
The favourites, including ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, have vowed to leave the EU on Oct. 31 even if there is no deal in place.
Most businesses and economists think that would cause economic turmoil and plunge Britain into recession. But many Conservatives think embracing a no-deal Brexit may be the only way to win back voters from Farage’s party.
Labour paid for a fence-sitting Brexit policy that saw the party dither over whether to support a new referendum that could halt Brexit. Labour foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry said the party needed to adopt a clearer pro-EU stance.
“There should be a (new Brexit) referendum and we should campaign to remain,” she said.