Voters on both sides of the Brexit divide delivered a devastating verdict on Britain's two main parties at the European elections, giving both the Conservatives and Labour their worst electoral results in living memory.
Nigel Farage, whose three-month-old Brexit Party topped the polls with a stunning 32% of the vote — landing 28 MEPs — demanded a seat at the negotiating table with the EU under the next prime minister.
“There is a massive message here," he said. "The Labour and Conservative parties could learn a big lesson from tonight, though I don’t suppose they actually will."
On the other side of the Brexit debate was the jubilant Liberal Democrats who said they were “back in business” after securing second place with 20% of the vote and 15 MEPs. They previously had just one MEP.
The combined vote share of the Remain-supporting parties — the Lib Dems, the Green Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and Change UK — was 40%, higher than the combined results of the two parties supporting a no-deal Brexit, which came to 35%. However, the combined results of the parties supporting any version of Brexit was still higher than the numberous parties supporting Remain.
With Tories polling just 9% — their worst election result since the Reform Act in 1832 — leadership candidates jostled to insist the party must now take the UK out of the EU.
Boris Johnson said the message from voters was “clear”, writing in his Telegraph column: “If we go on like this, we will be fired: dismissed from the job of running the country."
He added: “If we fail yet again to discharge that mandate, then I fear we will see a permanent haemorrhage of Conservative support, and loyal voters who have left us to join the Brexit Party (and others) may simply never come back."
Jeremy Hunt, who supported Remain in 2016, said the Tories faced an "existential risk to our party unless we now come together and get Brexit done".
With Labour managing just 14% of the vote, senior figures piled pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to shift the party’s Brexit policy firmly in favour of a second referendum.
A leaked briefing note by the People’s Vote campaign obtained by BuzzFeed News showed that second referendum activists and Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson were using the exact same language to attack Corbyn’s position on Brexit.
“Never again can Labour policy on the most crucial issue of our generation find itself on the wrong side of its members and our voters,” wrote Watson, in words echoed in the private People’s Vote document: “Never again can Labour policy on the most crucial issue of our time find itself on the wrong side of its members, voters and history.”
Corbyn signalled that Labour would discuss its next steps this week. “Over the coming days we will have conversations across our party and movement, and reflect on these results on both sides of the Brexit divide,” he said.
The shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer demanded Corbyn endorse a second referendum, tweeting: "The only way to break the Brexit impasse is to go back to the public with a choice between a credible leave option and remain."
Speaking on BBC News last night, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry also waded in and called on Corbyn to shift position, saying Labour must endorse a public vote and campaign for Remain.
“We were not clear on the one single thing that people wanted to hear and that wasn’t their fault,” she said.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell tweeted that “we must unite our party & country by taking issue back to people in a public vote”, either in a general election or a second referendum.
However, other Labour figures in Leave-supporting areas warned against backing another referendum. "A pro Second Referendum message is toxic to many heartland Labour voters. Time to start listening,” warned Doncaster MP Caroline Flint.
The night saw poor performances from far-right activists Tommy Robinson and Carl Benjamin, who were both crushed in the North West and South West respectively.
UKIP leader Gerard Batten lost his London seat as votes for his party collapsed with not one MEP elected.
Change UK leader Heidi Allen claimed the new party’s campaign went "really, really well", but it managed zero MEPs and just 3% of the vote.
Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alex Wickham at email@example.com.
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