The Prime Minister’s emotional resignation and the main parties’ humiliation in the European elections have catapulted the UK into even worse territory in a disastrous week.
The catastrophically poor results for the Conservative government and Labour opposition are now forcing the nation’s leaders to adopt more extreme positions on how to resolve the debilitating deadlock.
The Leave parties calling for a hard line exit and the Remain parties demanding a second referendum performed strongly, showing the divide between opposing views is starker than ever.
The Brexit Party swept up 29 seats, the Liberal Democrats 16, Labour sank to 10 seats, the Greens rose to seven and the ruling Conservative Party won a paltry four.
For many, it leaves little hope the government will be able to deliver a deal for leaving the European Union by the October 31 deadline.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage called for Theresa May’s replacement as prime minister to announce a “no-deal” October departure and move on to negotiating a post-Brexit trade deal or face a fight for every seat at a general election.
But Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the top leadership candidate in a Conservative Home tally, warned that crashing out with a no-deal Brexit would be “political suicide” for the government.
He wrote in the UK Telegraph the party would lose a confidence vote in the UK parliament if they pushed for no deal, triggering a general election.
The success of Mr Farage’s Brexit Party has left many government MPs backing a no-deal departure from the EU.
Leadership frontrunners Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom and Esther McVey all vowed to deliver Brexit by the October deadline, deal or no deal.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a key Vote Leave campaigner and major leadership contender, promised free British citizenship for three million EU nationals if he becomes prime minister.
The Guido Fawkes blog put Mr Raab and Mr Gove first in the race with 19 MPs each, and Mr Johnson third with 17 although the latter is thought to have the support of rank-and-file party members.
Mr Hunt told Today: “If we don’t solve (Brexit), we will face a political crisis that is far bigger actually than our legal relationship with the EU, it could lead to the destruction of our party system and the end of my own party.
“We must not go back to the electorate asking for their mandate until we’ve delivered what we promised we would do last time, which is to deliver Brexit, it would be absolutely catastrophic for us as a party.”
Another prominent leadership candidate in a wide field, Home Secretary Sajid Javid refused to say whether he would take the UK out of the EU without a deal.
“I think there are too many divides in our country today, whether someone was Leave or Remain, or whether in the north or the south, whether they are young or they are old,” he said.
“We shouldn’t be exploiting any of these divisions. What we need to do is bring people together.”
A second referendum is looking increasingly likely, with more MPs believing another vote is the only way to reach a decision on what should happen next.
The opposition Labour Party is as divided as the Conservatives, after performing almost as dismally in the European elections.
With many former Labour supporters ditching the party for pro-EU Liberal Democrats or Greens, leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed he would back another vote on “any deal”.
Under pressure from senior party members, he changed his tune on a second referendum, saying his party would prefer a general election but any Brexit deal “has to be put to a public vote”.
He wrote to MPs: “It is clear that the deadlock in parliament can now only be broken by the issue going back to the people through a general election or a public vote. We are ready to support a public vote on any deal.”
It didn’t go far enough for some in his party, who want an immediate commitment to another referendum as soon as possible and explicit support for remaining in the EU.
Deputy leader Tom Watson backed demands for a members’ ballot or special conference to shift the party’s position, rather than waiting until its September conference to fully support a second referendum.
But Len McCluskey, secretary of the UK’s biggest union, Unite said those rushing to advance a new agenda were trying to “undermine Jeremy Corbyn”.
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair said there was “no Tory leader that would be crazy enough to try and tip this country into no-deal Brexit without going back to the people.”
He told Sky News: “The risk for Labour is that if it doesn’t put forward a set of policies that can command support in the centre as well as on the left then it can’t get to a majority. On Europe (Mr Corbyn) has just got to come to a clear position.
“Both party leaderships have made the same mistake which is to think that it is possible to sit on the fence on Europe and appeal to both sides. The European elections show that isn’t possible.”
There are serious dangers in holding another vote, however, with many seeing the plan as making a mockery of democracy. A close win for Remain could see rioting in the streets from the already angry and exhausted British people.
Labour MP Lisa Nandy warned a second referendum would be seen as a “final breach of trust” in her Leave-supporting constituency of Wigan, and could lead to a no-deal vote.
But if Mrs May could not agree a deal, there is little hope another leader will manage it, after voting begins on June 7.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot said there was little hope for progress from the Conservatives before the October deadline.
“At minutes to midnight on these negotiations, the Tories have plunged into their leadership contest so we get no sense out of them for a few months,” she said. “We think it’s important to foreground the people’s vote.”
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