British Prime Minister Theresa May faced mounting pressure today to resign after her Conservative party failed to muster a simple majority in the crucial polls she had called three years ahead of schedule hoping to boost her negotiating powers during the complex Brexit talks. Though the Conservatives emerged as the single largest party in the election for Britain’s 650-seat parliament, the impressive show by the opposition Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn is seen as a humiliation for May to continue in her position. According to British media, the results are a humiliation for May, who chose to call the election to try to strengthen her hand in talks with the European Union on pulling the UK out of the single market. The Brexit talks were set to begin on June 19, but the results – a sort of turnaround in fortunes for both major political parties – have thrown that timetable into doubt.
With a handful of seats yet to be declared, Conservatives won 314 and Labour secured 261, leaving neither party anywhere close to the 326 seats required for an overall majority. Though May won her Maidenhead seat in south-east England with 37,780 votes, she faced pressure to resign after losing her parliamentary majority unexpectedly. All pre-election opinion poll forecasts of May’s strong lead with projections of a 50 to 70 seat majority have proved far-fetched with the Corbyn-led Labour doing far better than expected. It had been classified as a Brexit election and the result is being seen as giving hope to the 48 per cent who had voted to remain in the EU in the June 2016 referendum and a rejection of May’s so-called “hard Brexit” stance.
Earlier, Corbyn called on May “to go” but she said the country needed stability and her party would “ensure” it was maintained. Conservative MP Anna Soubry has described the election results as “dreadful” and a “disaster”, questioning whether Prime Minister May should remain as leader.
Labour looks set to make gains of 33 seats with the Tories losing 15 – and the Scottish National Party (SNP) down by 22 seats in a bad night for Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, with her party losing seats to the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats who have won 12 seats, up four from their last election tally. The Conservatives are forecast to win 44 per cent of the vote, Labour 41 per cent, the Lib Dems 8 per cent, UKIP 2 per cent and the Greens 2 per cent.
“At this time, the country needs a period of stability. The Conservative party is on course to winning the most votes and it will be incumbent on us that we provide that period of stability,” May said after she won her own seat in Maidenhead with 37,780 votes. Conceding the exit poll predictions of a hung parliament and her dashed hopes of a landslide win, she added: “My resolve is the same that as it has been. Whatever the results, the Conservative party will remain the party of stability.”
Corbyn also held on to his seat at Islington North in north London with a decisive margin and won over 40,086 votes, which he described as an “incredible” result and seemed to indicate his intent to form a minority government. “Politics has changed and this is people saying they have had quite enough… I am very proud of the results that are coming in and the vote for hope. The Prime Minister called the election because she wanted a mandate and the mandate is that she has lost seats,” he said, claiming on Twitter earlier that the Labour party had “changed the face of British politics”.
Among some of the heavyweight losses of the night include that of former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg losing his Sheffield Hallam stronghold to the Labour party, while fellow party colleague Vince Cable – who had lost his seat in a shock result in 2015 – has regained his Twickenham seat with a solid majority of 9,762. The final result in the polls would mean that a deal will have to be done by any party who wants to form a government and the Conservatives will be given the first chance as the single largest party.
But there is also a chance the UK could go back to polls later this year under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, if two- thirds of MPs vote for it and lose confidence in a government that is not strong enough. The last hung parliament result in the UK was in 2010, when David Cameron took over as PM and formed a Conservative- led coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
This time there is a bigger chance of a minority government, which means the governing party would be unable to pass laws and legislation without the votes of other parties that are not part of the government. A minority Conservative government could probably rely on the votes of the 10 or more MPs of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from Northern Ireland and a minority Labour-led government could rely on Welsh Plaid Cymru’s three MPs, one Green MP and the SDLP’s three.
The SNP could play a crucial role and their position has been that they will not support a Conservative government. The Lib Dems had also ruled out any coalition deals, having suffered in the previous Tory-led coalition of 2010. In any scenario, any new government is unlikely to be very stable, increasing the prospect of another general election within months. Any party wanting to form a government needs to see if it can assemble the votes it needs to get its programme of proposed new laws passed in the Queen’s Speech which marks the opening of Parliament, scheduled for June 19.
The ruling Tories had started off the campaign 51 days ago with forecasts of an unassailable majority of at least 70 seats and one of the biggest victories since the days of Margaret Thatcher but have ended with a shaky hung Parliament instead.