Britain’s two main parties have set the stage for a battle over a no-deal Brexit, hoping to win back voters who abandoned them for a new movement led by eurosceptic Nigel Farage and other smaller parties in European elections.
After a punishing night when acrimonious divisions over Britain’s departure from the EU were plain to see, contenders for the leadership of the governing Conservatives said the results were a demand to deliver Brexit no matter what.
Taking a different tack, the opposition Labour Party said a public vote – a new national election or second referendum – was the way to reunite the country.
It pledged to make sure any new eurosceptic Conservative leader would not take Britain out of the EU without a transition deal to help protect the economy.
But with Farage’s Brexit Party, which prefers a no-deal Brexit, capturing the greatest number of votes for seats in the European Parliament on Monday, closely shadowed by a group of fervently pro-EU parties, Conservatives and Labour were under pressure to commit clearly to either side of the debate.
What is clear from a vote which many used as a protest is that Brexit – which forced Prime Minister Theresa May to say she will resign on June 7 after failing to deliver Britain’s departure – risks shattering the election prospects of both the main parties.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace May as party leader and prime minister, said the election message was “if we go on like this, we will be fired”.
“We can and must deliver. No one sensible would aim exclusively for a no-deal outcome. No one responsible would take no-deal off the table,” Johnson, who was also London mayor, said in his regular column in the Telegraph newspaper.
“If we are courageous and optimistic, we can strike a good bargain with our friends across the Channel, come out well and on time – by October 31.”
Interior minister Sajid Javid became the ninth Conservative to declare he would run for the leadership, saying on Monday “first and foremost, we must deliver Brexit”.
After the Brexit Party came out on top in Sunday’s European vote with 31.6 per cent of the vote, the 55-year-old Farage said on Monday he wanted to be included in any new negotiation to leave the EU.
But while the Brexit Party came first, with Farage’s former UKIP adding 3.3 per cent of the vote, three staunchly pro-EU parties – the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Change UK – combined for 35.8 per cent.