After calling for a snap election to shore up support, UK prime minister Theresa May was dealt a stunning defeat in the election on Thursday. May’s Conservative Party lost at least 12 seats, leaving them nine seats short of ensuring a majority in Parliament. The Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, gained at least 29 seats in Parliament, evidence of mounting frustration with May during her moves toward exiting the European Union.
The results leave the UK with a hung parliament, leading the conservative minority government to form a coalition with the Northern Irish Democratic Union Party in order to form a majority needed to govern. The loss called into question Theresa May’s political career, facing criticism that she ran an uninspiring campaign. May’s office said she will not resign as prime minister, despite many calls for her to do so.
“The mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support and lost confidence,” said Corbyn.
The shocking results will have profound effects on UK politics in general, and on Brexit negotiations specifically. Northern Ireland largely voted to remain part of the EU, and the Democratic Unionists Party will most likely call for a “soft Brexit,” allowing certain economic and political ties to the EU to remain in place. This would run counter to May’s promises to lead Britain to a “hard Brexit.”
After the UK Independence Party failed to win a single seat, its leader Paul Nuttall resigned Friday. Some observed that a high turnout among younger voters helped Labour win seats. The political gap between young and old in Britain is considerable. According to The Economist:
“8 percentage points better than the Conservatives among the very poorest, 15 points better among the jobless and 25 better among those who voted against Brexit. But its lead among voters under 25 is a jaw-dropping 44 points, nearly triple the size of the gap in the previous general election, in 2015.”
May had replaced David Cameron after he lost the Brexit referendum last year. Based on high approval ratings in the spring, she called a snap election to strengthen her party’s mandate going into Brexit negotiations. May refused to debate Jeremy Corbyn ahead of the election, choosing instead to largely avoid the media. She also faced criticism for failing to stand up to Donald Trump, when she declined to denounce his travel ban, and failed to denounce his criticism of London mayor Sadiq Kahn a day after the city faced a terror attack.