UK elections 2019: Brexit Party and Lib Dems surge as voters desert main parties
Farage warns Tories he could win general election; Corbyn under pressure to back second referendum
Leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage is pictured outside the BBC building, following the results of the European Parliament elections. Photograph: Hannah Mckay/Reuters
An insurgent Brexit party and reinvigorated Liberal Democrats have delivered a harrowing night for the Conservatives and Labour at the European elections, prompting profound soul-searching at the top of both major parties.
Nigel Farage has warned the Conservative leadership candidates he could win the next general election if they fail to deliver Brexit by the end of October, as his party topped the European polls.
The Brexit party leader said he had no trust in Boris Johnson or any of the other Tory hopefuls to deliver Brexit, as he pledged to field 650 candidates to stand for Westminster office.
“The next date is 31 October. That will become as big a day in people’s minds as 29 March. If we don’t leave on [31 OCTOBER], then we can expect to see the Brexit party’s success last night continue into the next general election,” Farage told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Farage’s victory at the European elections is now likely to put pressure on the Conservative leadership hopefuls to promise a hard Brexit in order to win back many of the party’s voters.
The Brexit party humiliated the Conservatives in their rural heartlands but also made sweeping gains in cities such as Cardiff, Leeds and Sheffield, as well as in Hillingdon, the home of Boris’ Johnson’s seat where the Tories were pushed into fourth.
Lib Dem revival
The night also confirmed an extraordinary revival of the Lib Dems, who overtook the Tories in Theresa May’s Maidenhead seat and came first in Jeremy Corbyn’s north London home of Islington.
Overnight, the Brexit party gained 28 seats, with the Lib Dems in second on 15 seats. Labour held 10, having lost seven so far, the Green party won seven, a gain of four, and the Tories were languishing in fifth place, with just three seats.
The results so far show that the hard Brexit vote totalled 34.9 per cent - with the Brexit party on 31.6 per cent and Ukip on 3.3 per cent .
The overall total for pro-leave parties was up at 44 per cent including the Conservatives on a historically low 9.1 per cent. The pro-remain vote added up to 40.3 per cent - with the Lib Dems on 20.3 r cent , the Greens on 12.1 per cent, the SNP on 3.5 per cent, Change UK on 3.4 per cent and Plaid Cymru on 1 per cent. Labour, which tried to appeal to both sides with a soft Brexit pitch or a possible confirmatory referendum, was on 14.1 per cent.
Mr Farage’s success campaigning in favour of a no deal Brexit is likely to push the Conservative leadership candidates into hardline positions on leaving the EU.
Mr Johnson, who is currently the favourite, used his Daily Telegraph column to acknowledge the results were a “crushing rebuke” to the government’s Brexit policy.
“The message from these results is clear. If we go on like this, we will be fired: dismissed from the job of running the country,” he said. “The only way to avert that outcome is to honour the result of the 2016 referendum, and come out of the EU; and that means doing it properly - not with some frail simulacrum of Brexit ? If we fail yet again to discharge that mandate, then I fear we will see a permanent haemorrhage of Conservative support, and loyal voters who have left us to join the Brexit party (and others) may simply never come back.”
Another leading candidate, Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, said the dire results for the Conservatives meant the party faced an “existential risk” unless it delivered Brexit.
Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn is under huge pressure from within his party to swing behind a second referendum, after Labour fell to third place behind the Liberal Democrats in the European elections.
The Labour leader promised to think about the party’s Brexit policy, as Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, called for a clear shift in favour of a people’s vote with Labour campaigning to remain.
Mr Corbyn said: “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. Over the coming days we will have conversations across our party and movement, and reflect on these results on both sides of the Brexit divide.”
Calls for a second referendum were led by Thornberry and Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, as well as some of Corbyn’s allies, including the trade union leader Manuel Cortes. –Guardian