UK government seeks Brexit compromise after election fiasco
LONDON (AP) — Britain’s governing Conservative Party said Saturday that it is ready to compromise to secure a Brexit deal after suffering its worst result in local elections for more than 20 years.
In contests for local authorities across England, the party lost about 1,300 seats, a quarter of its total, as voters punished the government for the U.K’s Brexit impasse. The opposition Labour Party also suffered losses as voters switched to smaller parties and independent candidates.
Almost three years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, the date and terms of Brexit remain uncertain following months of gridlock in Parliament.
Many Conservatives blame Prime Minister Theresa May for failing to deliver Brexit and want her to quit. This week’s electoral drubbing increased pressure on May, who was heckled at a Conservative event Friday by a party member shouting “Why don’t you resign? We don’t want you.”
Both the Conservatives and Labour said the message coming from voters was: Get on with Brexit.
The parties plan more meetings next week to try to agree on departure terms that could win the support of Parliament.
Talks so far have become stuck on divisions between the Conservatives and Labour over how close an economic relationship to seek with the EU after Brexit. Labour says the U.K. should remain in a customs union with the bloc to avoid barriers to trade. The government wants a looser relationship with the EU that would let Britain strike new trade deals around the world.
Environment Secretary Matt Hancock said he remained skeptical about a customs union, but the government needed “to be in the mood for compromise.”
“The mood of the nation is get on, deliver Brexit and then move on,” he told the BBC.
Others argue that the message coming from voters is more complex. The local elections saw a big surge for the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats and the Greens, parties that support a new referendum with the option of remaining in the EU.
Labour lawmaker Lisa Nandy said both main parties had suffered because voters were “losing faith with the system as a whole.”
“People are really, really frustrated about Brexit, but the major frustration comes from the perceived inability of the two major parties — including Labour — to get our act together and start dealing with the very many and real problems people have got,” she said.
The Conservatives and Labour are bracing for worse results in May 23 elections for the European Parliament, where they face opposition from new forces on the political scene — the anti-EU Brexit Party and the pro-European Change UK.