Early EU elections results reflect U.K.’s deep divide over Brexit

The first official British results in the European Parliament bear out predictions of victory for the Brexit Party led by anti-EU figurehead Nigel Farage and a big surge for the strongly pro-European Liberal Democrats.

Both the governing Conservatives and main opposition Labour Party are braced for a drubbing as U.K. voters use the election to protest at Britain’s Brexit deadlock.

The tally from northeast England, the first of the U.K.’s 12 regions to report, gave the Brexit Party, launched just weeks ago, 39 per cent of the vote.

The left-of-centre Labour Party, which has traditionally dominated the region, got 19 per cent of the vote, down sharply from the last EU elections in 2014.

The Liberal Democrats, campaigning to stop Brexit, more than doubled their share to 17 per cent of the vote, while the governing Conservatives got just 7 per cent, one point behind the pro-EU, environmentalist Greens.

The results reflect an electorate deeply divided over Britain’s delayed departure from the European Union, but united in anger at the two long-dominant parties, Conservatives and Labour.

The Conservatives look likely to be punished for failing to take the country out of the EU as promised, a failure that led May to announce Friday that she is stepping down.

Daniel Hannan, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament, said he feared the party was facing “total wipeout.”

Labour is facing a backlash over an ambiguous policy that has seen it torn over whether to support a new referendum that could halt Brexit.

Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell said he expected his party to “get a good kicking in the election results tonight.”

Britons voted Thursday for 73 seats in the 751-seat EU legislature. But the results were only being announced late Sunday after all 28 EU nations have finished going to the polls.

Farage’s Brexit Party is one of several nationalist and populist parties making gains across the continent in elections that saw fragmentation of the longtime political centre.

It has only one policy: for Britain to leave the EU as soon as possible, even without a divorce agreement in place.

“If you want Brexit, you’ve got to vote Brexit,” Farage said. “We did it once, they ignored us, so we’re going to tell them again.”

In the last EU election in 2014, Farage’s former UKIP party won 27 per cent of the vote, helping build momentum in the push to get Britain out of the EU. Labour won 25 per cent and the Conservatives 24 per cent, with the Lib Dems taking just under seven per cent of the vote.

Britons voted by 52 per cent – 48 per cent in June 2016 to leave the EU. But its departure, scheduled for March 29, has been delayed because lawmakers have rejected the agreement on divorce terms struck between the government and the bloc.

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 Brexit. That is currently scheduled for Oct. 31.

After three defeats for her Brexit deal in Parliament, May threw in the towel on Friday, announcing that she will step down as party leader on June 7. Britain’s new prime minister will be whoever wins the Conservative 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 “leave”-supporting voters from Farage’s party.

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