World / Politics

U.K.'s Brexit Party triumph boosts chances of 'no-deal'

AFP-JIJI, AP

Nigel Farage’s anti-EU Brexit party has topped European Parliament polls in the U.K., putting intense pressure on the ruling Conservatives — who suffered a historic rout — and raising the chances of a no-deal outcome.

The single-issue Brexit Party, founded just three months ago by Farage, combined with pro-EU forces to trounce the nation’s two dominant political parties in the European Parliament election, as angry voters blamed the ruling Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party for the country’s Brexit impasse.

With complete results announced Monday, the Brexit Party had won 29 of the U.K.’s 73 EU seats up for grabs and almost a third of the votes. On the pro-EU side, the Liberal Democrats took 20 percent of the vote and 16 seats — a dramatic increase from the single seat it won in the last EU election in 2014.

The opposition Labour Party came third with 14.1 percent, followed by the pro-European environmentalist Greens who captured nearly 12.1 percent. The Conservatives — apparently blamed by voters for failing to deliver Brexit in March as planned — were in fifth with under 10 percent of the vote.

The election leaves the U.K.’s exit from the EU more uncertain than ever, with both Brexiteers and pro-EU “remainers” able to claim strong support. The result raises the likelihood of a chaotic “no deal” exit from the EU — but also the possibility of a new Brexit referendum that could instead reverse the decision to leave.

A triumphant Farage said he doubted the Conservatives, who are seeking a new leader, would be able to take the U.K. out of the 28-nation bloc on the currently scheduled date of Oct. 31.

“The Conservative Party are bitterly divided and I consider it to be extremely unlikely that they will pick a leader who is able to take us out on the 31st (of) October,” Farage said.

He said his party — which currently has no members and no policies apart from leaving the EU — would “stun everybody” in the next British general election if the country didn’t leave the EU on time.

The elections, which took place Thursday, were never meant to happen; the U.K. was set to leave the bloc on March 29.

But parliament has been unable to agree on how to leave, slowly sapping May’s authority and forcing her to finally announce last week she would quit to let somebody else try.

Describing the EU result as “very disappointing,” she said: “It shows the importance of finding a Brexit deal, and I sincerely hope these results focus minds in parliament.”

Several of those vying to replace her, including Boris Johnson, were quick to repeat that Brexit must happen by the latest deadline, Oct. 31, with or without a deal with Brussels.

“No one sensible would aim exclusively for a no-deal outcome. No one responsible would take no-deal off the table,” Johnson wrote in his weekly column in The Daily Telegraph.

In Sunderland, a Brexit-backing area in northeast England, several voters voiced support for a no-deal Brexit following the results.

“It’s not going to kill us if we come out without a deal,” said Alan Bell, 67, a former chef.

Farage only registered his party in February but succeeded in leveraging his reputation as one of the masterminds of the pro-Brexit campaign in 2016.

He said his party should now have a say in any new Brexit negotiations with Brussels.

The EU has said it will not re-open the withdrawal deal already agreed with May, but many of her would-be successors are still likely to try.

Anti-Brexit campaigners also hailed the success of parties who want to keep Britain in the EU, suggesting voters are as split as they were when they voted 52 to 48 percent to leave three years ago.

The Greens, who campaigned on an anti-Brexit ticket as well as for action on climate change, won seven seats.

Adding in votes for the The Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru in Wales, all of which want a second referendum, supporters saw a resounding victory for pro-EU forces.

“There will almost certainly be a referendum now and we’ve got to win that,” Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said at an event with the party’s new MEPs on Monday.

Analysts, however, warned that European election results cannot be easily translated into success at British parliamentary elections, not least because a different voting system is used.

May’s bickering Conservative party had been braced for poor results and barely bothered to campaign.

But it must now decide what to do about the long-suffering EU withdrawal deal May reached with Brussels last year.

Parliament was on course to reject the pact, intended to smooth Britain’s exit, for a fourth time before May announced she was quitting.

Despite the calls for a “no-deal” Brexit, MPs have repeatedly voted against that option, fearing the economic impact of a harsh break with the U.K.’s closest trading partner.

May’s Finance Minister Philip Hammond warned Sunday he might even be prepared to take the drastic step of voting to bring down a future Conservative government in order to avoid that situation.

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