Voters in Britain apparently have dealt Prime Minister Theresa May’s ruling Conservative Party a major setback in a snap election she called to rally support ahead of negotiations to exit the European Union.
An exit poll Thursday night suggested May’s gamble in calling the early election has backfired spectacularly, with her party in danger of losing its majority in parliament. The poll was conducted for a consortium of broadcasters and is based on interviews with voters leaving polling stations across the country.
If confirmed, the result would lead to a period of political uncertainty and could throw Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union, set to start June 19, into disarray.
With nearly two-thirds of the seats counted, the results appeared to be generally bearing out an exit poll that predicted the Conservatives would get 314 of the 650 seats in Parliament, down from 330, while the Labour Party was projected to win 266, up from 229. Final results are expected Friday morning.
Amber Rudd, Britain’s interior minister, managed to hold onto her seat, but she saw her previous 4,796 majority slashed to 346 votes as her Conservative Party was predicted to lose its majority.
If May is forced to step down as prime minister, less than 11 months after landing the job, that would make her tenure the shortest of any British prime minister since the 1920s.
“The country needs a period of stability and whatever the results are the Conservative Party will ensure we fulfill our duty in ensuring that stability so that we can all, as one country, go forward together,” she said.
Election called in April
When May called the election April 18, her Conservative Party held a huge lead in public opinion polls along with its slim majority in parliament. That lead in the polls shrank over the course of the campaign, during which she backtracked on a major proposal on care for the elderly, opted not to debate her opponents on television, and faced questions about her record on security after Britain was hit by two Islamist militant attacks that killed 30 people.
By contrast, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who initially was written off as having no chance, was widely considered to have run a strong campaign. Labour drew strong support from young people, who appeared to have turned out to vote in bigger-than-expected numbers.
If the exit poll is correct, Corbyn could attempt to form a government with smaller parties, which, like Labour, strongly oppose most of May’s policies on domestic issues.
One of those parties, however, would be the Scottish National Party, which was predicted to lose 20 of its 54 seats.
If Labour does take power with the Scottish nationalists and the Liberal Democrats, both opposed to Brexit, Britain’s future will be very different from the course the Conservatives were planning.