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Main UK parties suffer Brexit battering in local elections

LONDON: Britain’s two main parties suffered a drubbing on Friday in English local elections as voters vented their frustration over the prolonged Brexit deadlock.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s ruling Conservatives lost control of several local authorities and hundreds of seats — but the main opposition Labour Party also lost ground, with voters instead turning to smaller parties and independents in Thursday’s polls.

“There was a simple message from yesterday’s elections to both us and the Labour Party: just get on and deliver Brexit,” May said.

Britain’s bitterly-divided MPs have been unable to agree on a divorce deal with the EU, with the two main parties in talks on breaking the impasse that have produced little fruit so far.

“This is a difficult time for our party and these election results are a symptom of that,” May told the Welsh Conservative Conference, having faced down a heckler calling for her to quit.

The results do not bode well for the Conservatives and Labour ahead of the European Parliament elections, set to take place in Britain on May 23.

After voting in June 2016 to leave the European Union, Britain was meant to depart on March 29 this year. However, its exit date has been postponed until October 31 due to the wrangling.

With more than half the English councils having declared results, the Tories have lost over 900 seats, while Labour has lost over 100.

If results were replicated nationwide, pollster John Curtice calculated that both the Conservatives and Labour would each get only 28 per cent of the total vote, saying the days of two-party domination “may be over”.

The centrist Liberal Democrats and left-wing Greens — both anti-Brexit — were the big winners, along with independent candidates.

“Of course we wanted to do better,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, adding that he was “very sorry” for the party’s losses.

The leader later said there was now “a huge impetus” for Brexit talks between his party and the Tories to succeed.

Voters went to the polls in mainly rural and suburban areas of England, with more than 8,000 seats up for grabs.

All 11 local authorities in Northern Ireland were also contested among the province’s own parties.

“The key message from the voters to the Conservatives and Labour is ‘a plague on both of your houses’,” Curtice told the BBC.

They lost votes most heavily in the wards where they were strongest, he said.

Voters typically give the sitting government a kicking at this mid-term point in the electoral cycle.

The ruling Tories are also mired in a scandal over the leaking of news that Huawei was to build parts of the country’s 5G network, leading to the sacking of defence minister Gavin Williamson.

However, left-wing Labour also lost ground — sweeping gains would point to an opposition party being on course for government.

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