• May’s decision to call an early election in the hopes of expanding the Conservative Party’s majority in the House of Commons disastrously backfired.
• With votes in nearly all of the 650 House of Commons constituencies counted, the Conservatives had won 318 seats — short of the 326 needed for a majority. The Labour Party was projected to hold 261 seats, the Scottish National Party 35 seats and the Liberal Democrats 12 seats, with the remainder held by small parties.
• No matter what, Britain’s negotiating posture with Europe has been severely weakened.
• The hard-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has faced down numerous divisions within his party, was the big winner of the night.
The Conservative Party’s stunning setback immediately had prominent political figures wondering about May’s future. (If she were to resign, she would be the shortest-serving prime minister since Andrew Bonar Law, who served 209 days in 1922 and 1923.)
A former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, batted away the idea. “I think it would be a grave error to go into the turmoil of a leadership election,” he told the BBC, while acknowledging that May had “found her position diminished.”
A former small business minister, Anna Soubry, suggested that May should go. “I think she’s in a very difficult place,” she told the BBC. “I’m afraid we ran a pretty dreadful campaign.” Asked what went wrong, she says: “Where do you want me to begin? It was a dreadful campaign.”
May, however, seems determined to stay on, at least for now. The Conservatives have had a long history of holding on to power. After failing to capture a majority in 2010, they ended up in a coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats.
DUP: New kingmakers
With no party holding a majority, the most likely situation is that a Conservative Party government will have a working majority with support from the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, which won 10 seats in the British Parliament on Thursday — a two-seat gain.
That party, which is historically composed of Protestants, supports Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland enjoys close commercial, economic and historical ties with Ireland — a member of the European Union — and the DUP favors a close relationship with the European Union.
If the DUP agrees to work with the Conservatives, it could demand, in return, that May’s government take a ‘soft’ position on Brexit.
Why the Tories lost
John Curtice, a political scientist at the University of Strathclyde and the BBC’s resident polling expert, said that Labour had benefited from a big shift in support from two groups: Young voters and people who voted to remain in the European Union. That more than offset the Conservatives’ gain from a sharp decline in support for the right-wing UK Independence Party.
The Labour Party seized a seat in Canterbury, in southeast England, that the Conservatives had held since World War I. It took back the seat for Glasgow Northeast from the Scottish National Party. And it held on in Wales, a traditional stronghold.
Impact on ‘Brexit’
Talks between Britain and the 27 other members of the European Union are scheduled to begin on June 19, in accordance with the two-year process for departure from the bloc. May had said she was calling the election to strengthen her party’s hand going into the negotiations. Instead, Britain will enter those negotiations substantially weakened and divided.
That could mean that Britain is willing to take a softer stance, one involving more concessions, in the talks. “‘Hard Brexit’ went in the rubbish bin tonight,” George Osborne, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, told ITV News. “Theresa May is probably going to be one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in our history.”
David Davis, the official assigned to oversee the withdrawal, told the BBC that the Conservative Party might have to revisit its pledge to take Britain out of the European single market and customs union.
That would be a major concession, and it immediately evoked outrage from Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, an ardent backer of Brexit and a persistent thorn in the side of the Conservatives. On Twitter, he was harshly critical of May. Ed Miliband, a former Labour Party leader, said it was impossible for May to lead the negotiations.
However, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hard-line euroskeptic Conservative, said he believed May would continue leading the negotiations. “The prime minister is the prime minister,” he said.
The Scottish National Party, which made huge gains in 2015, lost 21 seats. Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party’s top lawmaker in the British Parliament, lost his seat. So did Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland and a leader in the push for Scottish independence, who entered the British Parliament only two years ago.
Support for the UK Independence Party, which won more than 12 percent of the vote in the 2015 general election, collapsed to around two percent. The party once again failed to win a single seat in Parliament, and its leader, Paul Nuttall, lost in Boston and Skegness, a district where three in four voters opted last June to leave the European Union. He resigned as the party’s leader on Friday morning.
While May was re-elected to her seat in Maidenhead, England, other ministers in her government were not so fortunate. Among the Conservative ministers who were toppled were Jane Ellison and Simon Kirby, who work in the Treasury; Ben Gummer, a cabinet office minister; Gavin Barwell, the housing minister; and James Wharton, an international development minister. Home Secretary Amber Rudd barely held on to her seat, in Hastings and Rye, England.
Nick Clegg, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, was ousted, but another former leader of the party, Vince Cable, won back a seat he had lost in the 2015 general election.
Turnout was high
At 7 am on election day, turnout was running at 68.7 percent, from an electorate of 46.8 million. It was the highest turnout for a British general election since 1997, when the Labour Party under Tony Blair won a historic victory — the first of three consecutive election wins.
The British pound fell sharply immediately after the release on Thursday night of an exit poll that showed that the election would likely result in a hung Parliament. As the results have largely borne out that forecast, the currency has edged lower still. The pound was down more than two per cent against the dollar, at $1.2656, its lowest level in about two months.
Echoes of 1974?
British commentators are already drawing comparisons with 1974, when the two dominant parties competed for voters against the backdrop of bitter divisions over European integration.
Britain joined the European Economic Community, a precursor to the European Union, in 1973. The Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath, called a general election in February 1974, seeking a stronger mandate under the banner, ‘Who governs Britain?’
The vote resulted in a hung Parliament — the first since World War II — in which the Labour Party had the most seats. Heath tried to form a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party, but failed. The new Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, called a second election, in October that same year, and won a small Labour majority.
The New York Times