English voters frustrated with the deadlock over Brexit have punished Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party in local elections, early results showed on Friday. The results of Thursday’s elections are another display of how Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union has split voters beyond traditional party lines and
English voters frustrated with the deadlock over Brexit have punished Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party in local elections, early results showed on Friday.
The results of Thursday’s elections are another display of how Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union has split voters beyond traditional party lines and are a first indication of the damage Brexit has done to the two big parties.
The frustration sometimes boiled over. One audience member shouted “Why don’t you resign?” before May addressed Conservatives in Wales and some ballot papers were spoiled, with voters refusing to vote for any of the parties.
With just over half of English local council vote results declared, the Conservative Party had lost 551 councillors and Labour had lost 73 councillors, according to a BBC tally.
The main beneficiary of the swing against the two main parties – which are in talks to try to break the impasse in the British parliament over Brexit – was the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who had won 354 councillors so far, and said they hoped to make further gains in European Parliament elections on May 23.
Activists said the Liberal Democrats’ clear message that Britain needed a second referendum to break the parliamentary deadlock over the country’s future relationship with the EU had helped turn the tide.
“It just seems voters, period, saying: ‘A plague on both your houses’,” said John Curtice, Britain’s leading polling expert.
Smaller parties also gained in the local elections, which are often used as a protest vote against the incumbent party. The Greens, who also back a second Brexit referendum, gained 68 council seats, the partial results showed, and independent candidates won 251 seats.
Labour sources said their party had little to fear from the results so far, saying it was always going to be a “tough” battle in councils that traditionally favor the Conservatives.
Tough was also the word the Conservatives used to describe the local elections, with some pinning the blame for the party’s bad showing on the deadlock in parliament, which has rejected May’s Brexit deal three times.
People leave after voting at a Polling Station in Sale, Britain, May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Phil Noble
May told her party in Wales: “There was a simple message from yesterday’s elections, to both us and the Labour Party: just get on and deliver Brexit.”
While offering only a partial and imperfect picture of Britain’s voting intentions, the elections for more than 8,000 seats on councils – administrative bodies responsible for day-to-day decisions – also showed a frustration with local issues.
But for May and many in Labour, the message was clear.
“So far (the) message from local elections – ‘Brexit – sort it’,” said John McDonnell, Labour’s finance policy chief. “Message received.”
Nearly three years since the United Kingdom voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU, there is still no agreement among British politicians about when, how or even if the divorce should take place.
Britain was due to have left the EU on March 29, but May has been unable to get her deal approved by parliament and is now seeking the support of Labour, led by socialist Jeremy Corbyn. Talks next week are not expected to reach a breakthrough.
It is still unclear how the deadlock might be broken, though some say May might call a general election, a prospect Curtice said could end in another parliament where no party has an overall majority.
The Conservatives had been bracing for big losses in Thursday’s elections – something that could revive calls for May to step down and for a change in Brexit policy.
“People have very categorically said that she is part of the problem,” former Conservative minister and Brexit supporter Priti Patel told BBC TV. “I think we need change, I don’t think we can continue like this.”
Many Conservative eurosceptics fear the newly launched Brexit Party of veteran anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage, which did not contest the local polls but is expected to do well in the European elections later this month.
That has encouraged some to call for the government to take a tougher stance on Brexit and demand a clean split with the EU. For Labour, others suggested the party should move to supporting a second referendum after saying the Liberal Democrats had benefited from their clear-cut stance on Brexit.
“We’ve seen gains in both Remain and Leave areas, with huge swings to us in both former Conservative and Labour seats,” Luisa Porritt, a LibDem councillor, told Reuters.
“Given our unapologetically anti-Brexit stance, this bodes very well for the upcoming European elections.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, was also pleased with the LibDems “excellent results”, saying it offered “real momentum for pro-Europeans in the UK now ahead of #EUelections2019.”