UPDATED: Residents of the U.K. woke to political turmoil Friday as a snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May on the eve of crucial Brexit negotiations failed to deliver a decisive result, with no party able to muster a majority in Parliament.
With almost all votes counted, May’s Conservative Party won 319 out of 650 seats, a dozen fewer than in the previous election two years ago and short of the 326 necessary for her party to retain full control of Parliament. Losing that majority – after some pundits had initially predicted she would win in a landslide – has severely damaged May’s authority, but she vowed to continue serving as prime minister, and none of her colleagues seems ready, at the moment, to try to depose her.
The main opposition Labour Party made major gains at the polls, picking up a raft of new seats, for a total of 261.
With the most seats overall in the House of Commons, May said she would form a government “that can provide certainty and lead Britain forward at this critical time for our country. This government will guide the country through the crucial Brexit talks that begin in just 10 days and deliver on the will of the British people by taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union.”
To do that without a Conservative majority in the House of Commons, May will have to cobble together support from smaller parties, especially a small, like-minded group based in Northern Ireland. Even with their backing, May’s authority will be shaky, which could leave Britain in a dangerously weak position in its upcoming talks with the European Union on the terms of their divorce.
That would be a particularly bitter irony, because May called the early election on the grounds that she wanted a stronger voter and parliamentary mandate to conduct the Brexit negotiations. Instead, she got the opposite.
Despite the brave face she tried to put on the election outcome, the right-wing tabloid The Sun splashed the headline “Mayhem” on its front page, the British pound dropped in value against the dollar, and a joke is already circulating that, even though it’s June, it feels like the end of May.
Political opponents demanded her resignation.
“The prime minister called the election because she wanted a mandate,” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said. “Well, the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support, and lost confidence. I would’ve thought that’s enough to go…and make way for a government that will be truly representative of all the people in this country.”
May went into the election promising to provide “strong and stable” leadership. But as the campaign wore on, the Conservatives’ sizable lead in the polls began to erode, and Britain’s second female prime minister found herself loudly criticized as an ineffective campaigner who dodged candidate debates and tough questions on Brexit, the most important challenge facing Britain.
She has held the top job for less than a year, the successor to former premier David Cameron, who resigned after Britons repudiated his advice and voted to leave the E.U. May took over as prime minister after winning an internal leadership contest within the Conservative Party.
After formally notifying the E.U. earlier this year that it wanted out, Britain has two years to complete negotiations on the withdrawal and its future relationship with Europe. The challenge is a monumental one, as trade agreements must be re-negotiated and Britain’s participation in many European institutions rescinded or re-formulated.
The vast majority of members of Britain’s thriving entertainment industry supported staying in the E.U.