European Election Results: Labour Signals Second Referendum Shift As Brexit Party Sweeps To Victory

Rachel Wearmouth

Labour has signalled it is ready to back a second referendum on Brexit after voters deserted both Jeremy Corbyn and the Tories in their droves at the European elections. 

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is celebrating stunning victories across the country, taking almost a third of the vote and routing  the Conservatives. 

Remainers, meanwhile, appear to have registered their anger by flocking to the Lib Dems and Greens as a dramatic set of results paints a picture of a divided country. 

The Tories are on course for their worst ever national election share, having dropped to just 9% of the vote in England and Wales.

But voters appear to have delivered their verdict on Labour’s middle-ground Brexit policy by splitting between the clear alternatives offered by Farage and the anti-Brexit Lib Dems and Greens.

The scale of the Tory disaster, meanwhile, was underlined by its single-digit vote share - in fifth place behind the Brexit Party on 33%, Lib Dems on 21%, Labour on 15% and the Greens on 12% after all results were in from England and Wales.

Just three Conservatives were elected in England and Wales, while the Brexit Party had 28 seats, overhauling the 24 MEPs that Farage’s former party Ukip sent to the European Parliament in 2014.

The Lib Dems, who were reduced to just a single MEP in 2014, were on 15 after their best ever European results.

Labour had 10, halved from 20, the Greens - who also enjoyed a boost from pro-EU voters - were on seven, up from three in 2014.

Corbyn hinted he might be prepared to change course after two of Labour’s most senior figures - Emily Thornberry and Tom Watson - tore into the party’s campaign, claiming it had lacked a clear message as it sought to appeal to both Leave and Remain voters.

Corbyn said: “With the Conservatives disintegrating and unable to govern, and parliament deadlocked, this issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote.”

In a sign that he could consider a shift in position, he added: “Over the coming days we will have conversations across our party and movement, and reflect on these results on both sides of the Brexit divide.”

In a sign of how embarrassing the results were for Labour, the Lib Dems topped the poll in Islington, in north London - where both Corbyn and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry are MPs.

Speaking as the disastrous results for Labour were emerging last night,  Thornberry told the BBC: “We should have said, quite simply, that any deal that comes out of this government should be put to a confirmatory referendum and that remain should be on the ballot paper and that Labour would campaign to remain.”

Instead, the party got a “kicking”, she said, because “we went into an election where the most important issue was ‘what was our view on leaving the European Union’ and we were not clear about it”.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson added on Twitter: “Following the disastrous EU election results, Labour urgently needs to re-think its Brexit position and realign with members and voters.”

High-profile Corbyn backer and author Paul Mason, meanwhile, led calls for more fundamental change in the party and, in what appeared to be a thinly veiled attack on Labour communications chief Seumas Milne, called for the party to “sack the officials responsible”. 

Labour’s chairman Ian Lavery suggested the party’s attempt to woo both Leave and Remain voters was here to stay here, however. 

The result in Scotland will not be formally declared until later on Monday but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her SNP had won “emphatically” and would take three of the six available seats.

The Brexit Party, who came second across Scotland, appear on course to secure one more MEP, as will both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Farage, who was elected for his new party in the South East, said: “History has been made. This is just the beginning.”

In a warning to the Westminster parties, he said: “If we don’t leave on October 31 then the scores you have seen for the Brexit Party today will be repeated in a general election, and we are getting ready for it.”

Farage repeated his demand for the Brexit Party to be involved in the negotiations ahead of the Halloween deadline.

But election analysts were underlining that pro-Remain parties - not including Labour and the Tories - secured around 40% of the vote while no-deal Brexit parties, which are limited to UKIP and the Brexit Party, took around 35%. 

Foreign secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt said the dire results for the Conservatives meant the party faced an “existential risk” unless it delivered Brexit.

Prominent Brexiteer and MEP Daniel Hannan, who managed to cling on to his seat in the South East, said it was “without question our worst result as a party ever”.

The Liberal Democrats attracted Remain-supporting voters from across the political spectrum, including former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell and former Tory deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine.

Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said: “Our clear, honest, unambiguous message has won us our best ever European election result, and pushed Corbyn’s Labour into third place.

“We have shown ourselves to be the strongest Remain force in British politics.”

He said the results were a message for Labour to “get off the fence” over Brexit.

The Green Party finished above the Conservatives for the first time in a national election.

Co-leader Sian Berry said: “There is clear evidence from this of strong support for the UK remaining in the European Union, but also for tackling the causes of Brexit - the massive damage done to so many communities by austerity, tax-dodging and diminution of workers’ rights.”

The result from Northern Ireland is expected to be declared later on Monday.

The results across Europe suggest a decline in support for centrist parties across Europe in the European Parliament, with a boost for the Liberals, Greens and nationalists.

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