Voters Punish May and Corbyn Amid Brexit Chaos: U.K. Update

(Bloomberg) --

Voters are turning their backs on both the main parties amid frustration over Brexit, according to results from local elections in England.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s ruling Conservatives are paying the heaviest price at the polls for overseeing the political chaos of the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union. But Labour has also suffered serious set-backs, while the biggest winners so far are the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

Key Developments:

  • More than 8,400 seats over 248 English councils are up for grabs; with 225 councils having reported their results by 5:25 p.m., Labour had lost 102 seats overall, and the Conservatives had lost 1,124
  • The winners were smaller parties, principally the pro-European Liberal Democrats, who had gained an extra 599 seats. The Green Party picked up 155 more seats; independent candidates were up 536 seats
  • May says results “very difficult” for the Tories and showed need for both main parties to get on with delivering Brexit
  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says Brexit partly to blame for performance

Corbyn: A Deal Has to be Done (5:20 p.m.)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party is involved in talks with May that are due to resume on Tuesday, said the results put pressure on MPs to agree a deal on leaving the EU.

“It means there is a huge impetus on every MP, and they’ve all got that message whether they themselves are Leave or Remain -- all the people across the country -- that an arrangement has to be made,” Corbyn told ITV News. “A deal has to be done and Parliament has to resolve this issue. I think that is very, very clear."

Second Referendum May Be Needed: Pickles (3:30 p.m.)

Former Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles added his name to the list of politicians who’d countenance a second referendum to resolve Brexit.

Now a member of the House of Lords, Pickles told Sky News the outcome of the local elections isn’t a “wake-up call” for his party but rather “a great clanging alarm bell in the night” telling it to sort out Brexit. Time’s running out for Parliament to resolve the issue, he said.

“If Parliament can’t sort it out, then -- I can’t believe I’m saying this because I was absolutely opposed to a second referendum -- then a clear choice has got to be put to the public in terms of what they want again,” he said. “Do they want Mrs. May’s deal, do they want to have Brexit without a period of transition, or do they want to stay in the European Union?”

Lib Dems Gain Back Losses From 2015 Wipeout (2:10 p.m.)

The Liberal Democrat gains overnight were caveated with the fact that their 2015 result, when these seats were last contested, was a comprehensive wipeout following five years in government as junior partners to the Conservatives.

But with 92 councils yet to declare their results from yesterday’s votes, they are now in positive territory. On that catastrophic night in 2015 the party lost a net 411 seats; on this year’s tally they are now up a net 428 councillors.

May Talks-Up Close Customs Deal with EU (1 p.m.)

In her speech, the premier underlined her view that the U.K.’s Brexit deal must protect jobs and the needs of business. That policy has been a blow to pro-Leave campaigners such as Boris Johnson, who wanted a clean break with the EU. She said she rejected failing to leave the EU, but also leaving without a deal.

“We need a Brexit that works for our manufacturers and our exporters, that keep supply chains flowing and opens up new routes for trade,” she said. It’s another signal that May is comfortable with something closer to the kind of customs union Corbyn wants than she is with a no-deal Brexit.

Corbyn Says ‘Sorry’ to Defeated Councillors (12:57 p.m.)

The Labour leader put a brave face on the bad set of results, and insisted his party is prepared for a general election whenever it comes.

“I congratulate all the Labour councillors who have been elected, and I am sorry for those who were not successful,” Corbyn said in an emailed statement. “We will fight and win those seats back and, whenever a general election comes, we are absolutely ready for it.”

May: Tories, Labour Must ‘Get On With’ Brexit (12:32 p.m.)

In her first reaction to the results, the prime minister acknowledged that heavy losses were “very difficult” for the Conservatives.

“This is a difficult time for our party and these election results are a symptom of that,” May told an audience in Wales. “We have the responsibility to deliver something truly historic. What is momentous and historic is seldom simple and straightforward but I think there was a simple message from yesterday’s elections to both us and the Labour Party: Just get on and deliver Brexit.”

May’s was heckled at the start of her speech by a man in the audience. “Why don’t you resign?” he shouted. “We don’t want you.” He was then escorted out of the room while the audience chanted “Out! Out!”

Cable Plans to Step Down ‘Reasonably’ Soon (12:10 p.m.)

Speaking on Sky News, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable went (a little) further in clarifying his future, saying he planned to step down in the “reasonably near future.”

Cable also said the U.K. was an “unhappy country” due to the Brexit impasse in both government and Parliament, adding that the Liberal Democrats would continue to push for a second referendum to resolve the issue.

Cable Says Three-Party Politics Is Back (11:10 a.m.)

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said the local election results show the recovery of his party and the return of “three-party politics” in the U.K.

But in a BBC interview, he lamented that the pro-EU, Remain vote would be “splintered” heading into European Parliament elections this month because his party and Change UK had failed to reach an agreement to join forces.

Even so, he told supporters in Chelmsford, Essex that he expects the party to do well in those polls. “We are clearly the dominant, successful Remain party,” he said in a televised speech.

Cable reiterated that he plans to stand down as leader, though he indicated he wouldn’t be announcing his departure date imminently.

Former Minister Patel Calls on May to Quit (10:55 a.m.)

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Priti Patel told the BBC the message from the local elections may be that it’s time for Prime Minister Theresa May to quit.

On the doorstep, “people have very categorically said that she is part of the problem,” Patel said. “We need change. I just don’t think we can continue like this. Many of my constituents have said this to me: ‘We need change, we need a change of leadership.’ Perhaps the time has now come for that.”

Brokenshire: Government Must Sort Out Brexit (10:40 a.m.)

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire told Sky News Brexit was “very firmly” an issue he felt when he was out canvassing in the local elections. The message he took was that the government needs to sort out Brexit, he said, rejecting the idea that the results -- with the pro-EU Liberal Democrats gaining seats -- bolstered the argument for a second referendum.

Greens Claim Best Night Ever (10:35 a.m.)

The Green Party said it’s already celebrating the biggest election night in their history, which they attributed partly to their pro-EU stance.

In results so far, the Greens won 42 new seats and representation on 16 new councils, it said in a statement. Co-leader Jonathan Bartley said results also showed dissatisfaction with austerity and action on climate change.

“It is also clear that Brexit has played a significant role in these elections,” he said. “Greens have been clear in standing up for the U.K.’s membership of the European Union and will continue to do so.”

Notable Results So Far (10:30 a.m.)

There have been some notable results showing how the tide has turned against both major parties. The Conservatives have lost control of rural councils such as Cotswold and Tandridge in Surrey that should be solid Tory territory. And Labour lost control in seats in their heartlands including Bolsover -- represented in Parliament by the veteran left-winger Dennis Skinner -- and Hartlepool.

The Liberal Democrats, for their part, have gained control of councils in western England, a region that was formerly its stronghold. Their gains include Bath and North East Somerset -- an area partly represented in Parliament by Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg -- as well as Winchester and North Devon.

The Tories also lost control of Trafford council in Manchester, where Labour won a majority of seats for the first time since 2003.

Corbyn: Brexit Partly to Blame (10:20 a.m.)

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the results weren’t as good as he hoped, and that’s partly because of Brexit.

He gave no clue as to whether this changes his stance when it comes to talks with May’s government, but said Labour’s position was to try to “bring people together so we have an intelligent relationship with Europe in the future.”

“We’re the only party that seeks to appeal to people however they voted in 2016,” he said in a broadcast interview.

Labour Remainers Make Case For Change (9:45 a.m.)

The Labour Party’s Pro-EU faction was quick to make its case on Friday morning. Bridget Phillipson, who said her Sunderland constituency saw a swing to pro-Remain parties away from Labour, called on the party leadership to change course.

“Too often places that voted for Brexit back in 2016 like Sunderland get caricatured by the media as if everyone voted Leave. But the majority of Labour voters now want a People’s Vote on Brexit and would vote to stay in the EU given the chance,’’ she said in a statement.

“I fear Labour’s position has been too hesitant and lacking in clarity over the past few months, depressing support among our voters at a time when they expect strength and leadership from my party rather than fudge.”

Labour’s Brexit Dilemma in Two Tweets (8:50 a.m.)

Labour’s economy spokesman John McDonnell demonstrated the fragility of his party’s “constructive ambiguity” on Brexit in two tweets that gave a hint of the problems the party’s candidates in Thursday’s elections had explaining its position on the doorstep.

“We’ll see what final results of local elections look like by end of day as they are pretty mixed geographically up to now but so far message from local elections- “Brexit - sort it.” Message received,’’ he wrote.

After a furious reaction – which saw comments massively outweigh retweets – he tweeted a clarification when journalist Robert Peston suggested it meant the Labour leadership wanted to reach a compromise deal with May.

“Don’t misinterpret my last tweet. I was simply making the point we need to get on with sorting this out whichever way,’’ McDonnell wrote.

Labour Hit by ‘Frustrated’ Voters (7:45 a.m.)

Labour’s elections coordinator Andrew Gwynne, who said it had been a “tough” night, defended his party’s strategy of trying to straddle the Brexit divide.

“It’s not a bad thing for a party that seeks to govern in the national interest to try to bring together our polarized and divided society,’’ Gwynne told BBC Radio. But he admitted that Brexit had hit the main opposition party. “For many people it was their first opportunity to express their sense of frustration and the two main parties bore the brunt of that.”

He said the party would have to “take stock” of the results in some Labour areas where “the Labour vote either didn’t come out or felt frustrated and voted for independents and smaller parties.”

Lewis: MPs Need to Break Brexit Impasse (7:15 a.m.)

Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis said it was a “tough night” for the party but pointed to gains from Labour in Walsall and Stoke on Trent as examples it wasn’t all bad.

“People are frustrated with where they see parliamentarians are, we’ve found this impasse and it’s a stark reminder to everybody in the House of Commons that we’ve got to get past the impasse and deliver on what people voted for,’’ Lewis said.

Labour MPs in Leave-voting areas need to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal if they want to deliver for their voters, he said.

“If those Labour MPs in Leave seats – those heartlands where they’re losing – had voted with the prime minister over the last few months we would already have left the European Union,’’ Lewis said. “MPs across the House -- in 2017 both our main party manifestos promised to respect the referendum and leave the EU -- we need to get on and do that. I hope the Labour Party will step up.”

Remainer Lib Dems are ‘Back in the Game’ (6:55 a.m.)

Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey said the gains for his party matched some of the best nights in its history and reflected disillusion with the two main political parties. People have been “crying out for a strong alternative,’’ he said.

“This is a leap forward. Clearly Brexit was a massive issue and it’s really clear to people that if you want to stop Brexit you vote Liberal Democrat,’’ he told BBC Radio. “We’re clearly back in the game.”

Earlier:

Brexit Backlash Hits Main Parties in U.K. Local Elections

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