LONDON – The United Kingdom appears to be headed for a so-called “hard Brexit” after a big win for the anti-European Union Brexit Party, led by prominent Brexiteer Nigel Farage, in Sunday’s European parliamentary elections.
The polls saw the major centrist party suffer losses as the Greens, Liberals and some euroskeptic far-right groups, including Farage’s Brexit Party, saw big gains.
Provisional results show that the Brexit Party, founded at the start of the year by the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), was the clear winner among British groups in the EP with 29 seats, or 31.71 percent, while the pro-EU Liberal Democrats came in second.
The Conservative and Labour Parties suffered heavy losses, with the Tory party in particular faring poorly with under 10 percent of the vote.
In a referendum in 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU, with a deadline for its withdrawal set for March 29.
But when that deadline was extended to Oct. 31 after the British parliament failed to agree a deal on the terms of its departure, the country was forced to participate in the European elections.
Although the final results will not be published until Monday or Tuesday once the votes are counted in Northern Ireland, the message from British voters is clearly one in favor of Brexit, with Farage’s party winning in every region in England except for London, as well as dominating in Wales.
“Never before in British politics has a party launched just six weeks topped the polls in a national election,” Farage said on Sunday night. “If we don’t leave on Oct. 31, then the scores you have seen for the Brexit Party today will be repeated in a general election.”
“History has been made. This is just the beginning,” he added in a post on Twitter.
In a statement, Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said the results showed that the decision on whether to go ahead with Brexit would “have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote.”
The results are extremely damaging for the ruling Conservative and Unionist Party, which won just 8.7 percent; the party looks set for its worst election performance since it was founded in the early 1830s.
Much of the Conservatives’ support appears to have shifted to the Brexit Party over widespread disillusionment over the Conservative party’s failure to deliver Brexit.
Conservative Party chairman, Brandon Lewis, said “We knew this would be a difficult night for Conservatives – people want us to deliver Brexit as quickly as possible. We must.”
The results show that the country has become polarized between those who favor Brexit and those who favor remaining in the bloc.
The pro-EU Liberal Democratic Party, which has called for a second Brexit referendum, came in second place, with 16 MEPs or 18.55 percent, far behind Farage’s party.
More than 40 million people were called to the polls in the UK on Thursday, with turnout reaching 37 percent, two points higher than in 2014.
The European elections came just days after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced she would resign on June 7 after three years of political deadlock which saw her fail to get her party’s or parliament’s support for her Brexit withdrawal deal which she had agreed with EU leaders.