LONDON (AP) — British euroskeptic Nigel Farage said Monday that his new Brexit Party’s victory in the European election should spur Britain to leave the European Union even without a divorce deal — a call echoed by many senior Conservatives, stung by their party’s humiliating defeat.
Farage’s single-issue party and pro-EU forces combined to trounce Britain’s two dominant political parties in the European Parliament election, as angry voters blamed the ruling Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party for the country’s Brexit impasse.
With complete results announced Monday, the Brexit Party had won 29 of the 73 British EU seats up for grabs and almost a third of the votes. On the pro-EU side, the Liberal Democrats took 20% of the vote and 16 seats — a dramatic increase from the single seat in won in the last EU election in 2014.
The opposition Labour Party came third with 14.1%, followed by the pro-European environmentalist Greens , who captured nearly 12.1%. The Conservatives — apparently blamed by voters for failing to deliver Brexit in March as planned — were in fifth with under 10% of the vote.
The election leaves Britain’s EU exit more uncertain than ever, with both Brexiteers and pro-EU “remainers” able to claim strong support. The result raises the likelihood of a chaotic “no deal” exit from the EU — but also the possibility of a new Brexit referendum that could reverse the decision to leave.
A triumphant Farage said he doubted the Conservatives, who are seeking a new leader, would be able to take Britain out of the 28-nation bloc on the currently scheduled date of Oct. 31.
“The Conservative Party are bitterly divided and I consider it to be extremely unlikely that they will pick a leader who is able to take us out on the 31st October,” Farage said.
He said his party — which currently has no members and no policies apart from leaving the EU — would “stun everybody” in the next British general election if the country didn’t leave the EU on time.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who is stepping down as Conservative leader next month after failing to deliver Brexit, said the “disappointing” result of the European vote “shows the importance of finding a Brexit deal, and I sincerely hope these results focus minds in Parliament.”
But the election instead is likely to harden the uncompromising stance of the candidates vying to succeed her. On Monday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid became the ninth Conservative lawmaker to enter the race for the top job.
“First and foremost, we must deliver Brexit,” he said.
Boris Johnson, the current favorite to replace May, tweeted: “The message from last night’s results is clear. It is time for us to deliver Brexit.”
Most businesses and economists think leaving the EU with no agreement on departure terms and future relations would cause economic turmoil and plunge Britain into a 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 in which it dithered over whether to support a new referendum that could halt Brexit. Some senior Labour figures said after the party’s weak performance that it must now firmly back a new referendum on Britain’s departure from the bloc.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has long resisted a new referendum, but Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell suggested that might change.
He said the best way of stopping a damaging no-deal Brexit was “going back to the people in a referendum, and that’s what I think our members want.”
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