La­bor Party gains in vote

Early re­sults show vot­ers did not give her the de­ci­sive man­date she sought.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Christina Boyle Boyle is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

Exit polls project that Bri­tain’s Con­ser­va­tive Party will fail to hold a ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment.

LON­DON — Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May called a snap elec­tion seven weeks ago in a bid to strengthen her hand as she em­barked on two years of di­vorce ne­go­ti­a­tions with her Euro­pean Union coun­ter­parts.

The Con­ser­va­tive Party leader said she was seek­ing a de­ci­sive man­date from the elec­torate so she could get the best deal for the coun­try in the “Brexit” talks.

On Thurs­day evening, as the first exit polls were re­leased af­ter a short but in­tense cam­paign, it ap­peared that her gam­ble had prob­a­bly failed to pay off.

The polling sug­gested that the Con­ser­va­tive Party would win more seats than any other, but not enough to gain an over­all ma­jor­ity in the 650-seat House of Com­mons, which could leave the coun­try with a hung Par­lia­ment.

That would force May to seek a coali­tion with one or more other par­ties in or­der to form a gov­ern­ment.

Mean­while, the main op­po­si­tion La­bor Party ap­peared to have fared much bet­ter than many had ini­tially ex­pected. Exit polls sug­gested it could gain more than 30 seats, with the Con­ser­va­tives per­haps los­ing 17.

Those re­sults would have far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions for May’s Brexit strat­egy in the months and years ahead.

Fi­nan­cial mar­kets were al­ready un­nerved by the prospect of Bri­tain be­ing thrown into a pe­riod of more un­cer­tainty, with the pound drop­ping sharply against the euro and the dol­lar as the poll re­sults came out.

Paul Nu­tall, the leader of the UK In­de­pen­dence Party, was quick to heap scorn on May for her gam­ble.

“If the exit poll is true then Theresa May has put Brexit in jeop­ardy,” he wrote on Twit­ter. “I said at the start this elec­tion was wrong. Hubris.”

And for­mer Con­ser­va­tive Party Chan­cel­lor Ge­orge Os­borne said her very fu­ture as prime min­is­ter could be in jeop­ardy.

“Clearly if she’s got a worse re­sult than two years ago and is al­most un­able to form a gov­ern­ment, then she I doubt will sur­vive in the long term as Con­ser­va­tive Party leader,” he said.

Still, Brexit is un­likely to be de­railed en­tirely, be­cause the par­ties with the largest vote share — Con­ser­va­tive and La­bor — have agreed to ac­cept the will of the peo­ple from last June’s ref­er­en­dum. The vote to leave the EU won, 52% to 48%, even as many law­mak­ers backed the “Re­main” side.

The Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party re­mained staunchly op­posed to leav­ing the EU, hop­ing to win over the dis­grun­tled 48% by pledg­ing to hold another ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue.

But the idea gained lit­tle trac­tion. Polls show that al­though the vast ma­jor­ity of those who voted to re­main haven’t changed their mind, about half are now re­signed to its in­evitabil­ity and don’t want to be drawn into another di­vi­sive vote.

Exit polls sug­gested the Lib­eral Democrats would gain only six more seats na­tion­wide.

May had looked unas­sail­able at the start of cam­paign and was widely seen as a strong leader dur­ing a time of tur­moil.

Even though she was not elected to of­fice — hav­ing suc­ceeded David Cameron af­ter he stepped down as prime min­is­ter af­ter back­ing the failed Re­main side — she quickly took the helm and promised to united the coun­try and get Bri­tain the best pos­si­ble deal.

She ini­tially said she would not call an elec­tion un­til the cur­rent par­lia­men­tary term ex­pired in 2020, be­cause the coun­try needed a pe­riod of sta­bil­ity.

But in April, she an­nounced she had de­cided “with re­luc­tance” that an elec­tion was nec­es­sary to end the in­fight­ing that had be­set Par­lia­ment and the coun­try since the Brexit vote.

Her de­ci­sion was made while walk­ing with her hus­band, Philip, in the Welsh hills and came af­ter she had trig­gered Ar­ti­cle 50 of the Lis­bon Treaty, which for­mally be­gan the two-year di­vorce pro­ceed­ings with the re­main­ing 27 EU mem­bers.

May had made her vi­sion for Brexit clear, stat­ing that there could be no “half in, half out” deal.

She said Bri­tain was pre­pared to with­draw from the Euro­pean sin­gle mar­ket — a cen­tral tenet of the Euro­pean Union that guar­an­tees the free move­ment of goods, cap­i­tal, ser­vices and peo­ple — and also the cus­toms union, which guar­an­tees tar­iff-free trade within Europe.

“No deal for Bri­tain is bet­ter than a bad deal for Bri­tain,” May said dur­ing a Jan­uary speech.

This caused alarm among de­trac­tors who ar­gued that this so-called hard Brexit was some­thing no one had voted for.

The La­bor Party, mean­while, said that it would seek to pur­sue a more tem­pered ap­proach to Brexit, in­clud­ing at­tempt­ing to ne­go­ti­ate for Bri­tain to re­main in the cus­toms union.

That “soft Brexit” po­si­tion could now be more likely if May has to get law­mak­ers from other par­ties to sup­port her Brexit strat­egy and be­ing seen as weak at home could, iron­i­cally, make her ne­go­ti­at­ing life a lot eas­ier.

“If you have a weak po­si­tion back home, you have a very strength­ened po­si­tion in ne­go­ti­a­tions as other coun­tries know you might not be able to get the deal through Par­lia­ment,” said Tim Oliver, an as­so­ciate at LSE IDEAS, a for­eign pol­icy think tank at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics.

“From the EU per­spec­tive, if you’ve got a mas­sive ma­jor­ity, you can make con­ces­sions. If you have a small ma­jor­ity, you can say, ‘Cut me some slack.’ ”

Re­gard­less of the fi­nal elec­tion re­sults, the prime min­is­ter that the coun­try wakes up to Fri­day morn­ing will have a huge job ahead.

Daniel Leal-Oli­vas AFP/Getty Im­ages

THE LA­BOR PARTY, un­der Jeremy Cor­byn, ap­pears to have fared much bet­ter than ex­pected. Exit polls sug­gest La­bor could gain more than 30 seats.

Alas­tair Grant As­so­ci­ated Press

PRIME MIN­IS­TER Theresa May and hus­band Philip in Maiden­head, Eng­land. Polls in­di­cate her Con­ser­va­tive Party would lack an over­all ma­jor­ity.

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