British Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call an early election in a bid to strengthen her grip on power appeared early Friday to have spectacularly backfired, with her Conservative Party at risk of losing its parliamentary majority, according to exit poll and partial official results.
The outcome – an astonishing turn following a campaign that began with predictions that May would win in a historic landslide – immediately raised questions about whether she could maintain her hold on Downing Street. It also threw into doubt the country’s plans for leaving the European Union.
As of 3 a.m., a projection based on a combination of exit poll and official results put the Conservatives at 322 seats – four short of what they would need for a working majority in the 650 member Parliament and down from the 331 they won just two years ago.
The Labour Party was forecast to win 261 seats – an unexpected gain of dozens of seats under far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn. The outcome gave him at least a chance, albeit a remote one, of becoming prime minister – something virtually no one had thought possible before Thursday’s vote.
The results, if they hold, would mark the second time in as many years that the British people have defied predictions, scrambled the country’s direction and bucked the will of a prime minister who had gambled by calling a vote when none had been been required.
But unlike last year’s EU referendum – which delivered a clear if close verdict to get out of the bloc – the will of the voters who cast ballots on Thursday was not nearly as easy to decipher.