By William James
SOUTHAMPTON, England (Reuters) – Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was set to storm to victory in a European election, riding a wave of anger at the failure of Prime Minister Theresa May to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, early results showed.
The country’s two main parties, May’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party, hemorrhaged support while smaller pro-EU parties did well: the Liberal Democrats were in second place, according to a BBC projection.
Nearly three years after the United Kingdom voted by 52% to 48% to leave the EU, it remains a member and its politicians are still arguing over how, when or even whether the country will leave the club it joined in 1973.
May quit on Friday, saying it was a matter of deep regret that she had been unable to deliver Brexit and arguing that the decision of the 2016 referendum should be honoured. That opened up a period of further uncertainty as the Conservatives decide on who will take over as party leader and prime minister.
BBC projections put the Conservatives on around 10 to 12%, down from 23% in 2014, likely to be one of the party’s worst results in a nationwide election ever.
The Brexit Party was in first place, and was likely to do better than the UK Independence Party did in 2014, according to BBC projections.
“It looks like it’s going to be a big win for the Brexit Party,” Farage told reporters in Southampton in southern England where vote tallies from across the southeast region were being collated.
“The intelligence I get is that the Brexit party is doing pretty well,” said Farage, who headed one of the two Brexit campaigns in the 2016 referendum.
While May was forced to delay Brexit after agreeing a deal that the British parliament and much of her party rejected, the Labour Party has voiced both support for another referendum and a promise to honour the result of the 2016 vote.
The impact of such a severe election drubbing for the major parties is unclear though potential successors to May are calling for a more decisive Brexit, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is under pressure to openly support another referendum.
Britain took part in the European Parliament elections because it had delayed the date of its exit from the EU, but its MEPs will leave the parliament when Brexit happens.
In total, Britain will elect 73 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) to the 751-seat parliament. They will not contribute directly to British policymaking on domestic issues like Brexit, but will have a say in EU-wide policy.
Farage casts Britain’s political system as broken and says parliament and the government are trying to thwart Brexit. He wants the United Kingdom to leave the EU as soon as possible and says the damage of a no-deal departure has been blown out of proportion.
Farage, who as UKIP leader persuaded May’s predecessor, David Cameron, to call the Brexit referendum and then helped lead the campaign to leave the EU, has said that failure to implement Brexit would show Britain not to be a democracy.
While the United Kingdom remains deeply divided over Brexit, most agree that it will shape the future of the United Kingdom for generations to come.
Pro-Europeans fear Brexit will undermine London’s position as one of the world’s top two financial capitals and weaken the West as it grapples with Donald Trump’s unpredictable U.S. presidency and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.
The Liberal Democrats, who campaigned under the slogan “Bollocks to Brexit”, oppose Brexit and want a second referendum to stop it.
The loss of Britain for the EU is the biggest blow yet to more than 60 years of efforts to forge European unity after two world wars, though the 27 other members of the bloc have shown surprising unity during the tortuous negotiations.
In the 2014 EU Parliament election, what was then Farage’s UK Independence Party won with 26.8%, followed by Labour on 24.7% and the Conservatives on 23.3%. The Greens won 7.7% in 2014 and the Liberal Democrats 6.7%. Turnout was 35.6%.