Pressure on for Brexit compromise after polls debacle
Britain’s two biggest parties said there was renewed impetus Saturday to find a compromise on Brexit after taking a battering in local elections from voters exasperated by the impasse.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s governing centre-right Conservatives had a disastrous result, losing more than a thousand seats in the English local authority polls.
But the left-wing Labour main opposition led by Jeremy Corbyn failed to capitalise, and even managed to lose seats.
Instead, two pro-EU parties profited: the centrist, Liberal Democrats were up 676 and the left-wing Greens added 185. Independents meanwhile gained 242.
Yet, in a sign of the frustration among pro-Brexit supporters, many voters boasted on social media of how they spoiled their ballots, writing “Brexit betrayal” and “traitors” on their voting slips.
The Conservatives and Labour are in prolonged talks on finding a compromise to break the Brexit deadlock after MPs failed to agree on a divorce deal with the European Union.
“We can look at those local election results as a punishment for both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party for failing to find a way through,” Justice Secretary David Gauke told BBC television.
Corbyn told ITV there was clearly a “huge impetus… that an arrangement has to be made, a deal has to be done; parliament has to resolve this issue”.
With the divorce deal hanging in the balance, Britain’s exit date from the EU has been pushed back twice from the original March 29 to October 31.
Britain’s voted in June 2016 in favour of leaving the bloc.
– Shadow over EU poll –
In the local elections, the Conservatives were expected to lose seats, with sitting governments traditionally taking a mid-term hit.
Meanwhile Labour could have expected to make the sort of sweeping gains opposition parties on course for government typically pocket.
However, the results were far worse for both major parties than they might have projected.
With more than 8,000 council seats up for grabs in England, the Conservatives were net down 1,269 — the worst local elections performance, in raw numbers, by a governing party since 1995 — while Labour shed 63.
This year’s local elections took place in largely rural and suburban England, where generally the Liberal Democrats provide the main alternative to the Conservatives in the south and to Labour in the north.
Without a resolution to Brexit, the scenario could be worse for the big parties at the European Parliament elections. They are scheduled to take place in Britain on May 23 following the last extension to the Brexit deadline granted by the EU.
The Conservative and Labour will face eurosceptic Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party — which leads in the opinion polls — and pro-EU centrists Change UK.
Neither newly-formed party stood in the local elections, the polls coming too soon to find the thousands of candidates necessary.
The prime minister interpreted the election outcome to be a simple message to the Conservatives and Labour to “just get on and deliver Brexit”.
“Because we haven’t delivered the Brexit deal through parliament yet, this was going to be a particularly challenging set of elections for both of the main parties,” May said during a speech in Grimsby, eastern England, late Friday.
– ‘Treated like fools‘ –
In their first chance to dissect the results, newspapers also weighed in.
The front page of the strongly pro-Brexit publication the Daily Express read: “Got the message? Deliver Brexit!”
The similarly pro-Brexit Daily Mail printed an editorial calling the polls “an immense howl of anger, exasperation and derision at a pathetic political elite failing abysmally in its key task”.
It said the public were “sick to death of being treated like fools”.
The Sun said of May: “The party she has devoted her life to is demoralised, exhausted and staring into the abyss.”
The Times’s front page said May will be told by senior Conservatives that next week she must set a date for her own departure.
May has said she will step aside once a Brexit deal has been passed by parliament.