With a stunning exit poll predicting the UK Conservatives would lose their parliamentary majority and the opposition Labour party poised to gain considerably, results of the high-stakes and closely watched British election began to emerge early Friday.
According to The Guardian’s tally at 3 a.m. local time on Friday, 143 seats had been declared for Labour, 127 for the Conservatives, 18 for Scottish National Party, and 7 for the Lib Dems, with the count ongoing.
The shock forecast, released as the polls closed but before ballots were counted, suggested Thursday that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s gamble in calling an early election has backfired spectacularly and put her continued rule into question.
It showed Conservatives falling to 314 seats from 330, and the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party jumping to 266 seats from 220 in the 650-member parliament, while the SNP (Scottish National Party) fell to 34 and the Lib Dems jumped to 14 seats. Other parties mustered 22 seats between them.
More than three hours after polls closed in Britain’s election, the first seat changed hands, with Labour winning a constituency from the Scottish National Party.
Labour took Rutherglen and Hamilton West from the pro-independence SNP. Corbyn said that “whatever the final result, we have already changed the face of British politics.”
“If the poll is anything like accurate, this is completely catastrophic for the Conservatives and for Theresa May,” former Conservative Treasury chief George Osborne told ITV.
“Clearly if she’s got a worse result than two years ago and is almost unable to form a government, then she, I doubt, will survive in the long term as Conservative Party leader.”
A party needs to win 326 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons to form a majority government. The Conservatives held 330 seats in the last Parliament, compared with 229 for Labour, 54 for the Scottish National Party and nine for the Lib Dems.
During the last election, in 2015, the Conservatives did better than the exit poll predicted, and senior Conservatives said they would take a wait-and-see approach.
“It’s still very, very early in the evening,” Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said. “It’s too early in the night to be drawing conclusions.”
The forecast is much better than expected for the opposition Labour Party, which had been expected to lose seats.
Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell, one of Corbyn’s main lieutenants, urged caution.
“I’m a natural pessimist, and we’ll see whether I’m an optimist in the morning,” he said.
Results will come in overnight after an unsettled election held in the shadow of three deadly attacks in as many months.
May called the election seven weeks ago — three years ahead of schedule and with her party was well ahead in the polls. She argued that increasing the Conservative majority in Parliament would strengthen Britain’s hand in Brexit talks.
But things didn’t go to plan.
Brexit failed to emerge as a major issue in the campaign, as both the Conservatives and Labour said they would respect voters’ wishes and go through with the divorce.
Then attacks that killed 30 people in Manchester and London twice brought the campaign to a halt, sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government’s record on fighting terrorism.
Eight people were killed near London Bridge on Saturday when three men drove a van into pedestrians and then stabbed revelers in an area filled with bars and restaurants. Two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber killed 22 people as they were leaving a concert in Manchester. Before the election, five people died during a vehicle and knife attack near Parliament on March 22.
Rachel Sheard, who cast her vote near the site of the London Bridge attack, said the election hadn’t gone as expected — and that it certainly wasn’t about Brexit.
“I don’t think that’s in the hearts and minds of Londoners at the minute, (not) nearly as much as security is,” said Sheard, 22. “It was very scary on Saturday.”
May, who went into the election with a reputation for quiet competence, was criticized for a lackluster campaigning style and for a plan to force elderly people to pay more for their care, a proposal her opponents dubbed the “dementia tax.” As the polls suggested a tightening race, pollsters spoke less often of a landslide and raised the possibility that May’s majority would be eroded.
In her final message to voters, May tried to put the focus back on Brexit.
“I can only build that better country and get the right deal in Brussels with the support of the British people,” she said. “So whoever you have voted for in the past, if that is the future you want then vote Conservative today and we can all go forward together.”