The U.K. is headed for a hung parliament, according to exit-poll data, with no one party securing enough seats to win 326 seats in the 650-member House of Commons. The result is likely to lead to prolonged political and economic instability and could have profound consequences for the future of the U.K. as it prepares to begin talks with the EU over Brexit.
According to the Ipsos MORI exit poll conducted for the BBC and Sky News, the Conservatives will win 314 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons (down from 330), Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will win 266 seats (up from 229), the Scottish National Party will get 43 seats (down from 54), and the Liberal Democrats 14 seats (up from nine). The U.K. Independent Party will win no seats, according to the projection (from one). Official results are due Friday, but exit polls have been mostly reliable in the U.K. (unlike other political polling), and haven’t been wrong for the winner since 1992 by more than 15 seats.
The Conservatives had led in most polls before the elections—though their 21-point lead over Labour narrowed in the run up to the vote. The results could be a repudiation of an industry that’s had a difficult record in recent U.K. elections. For instance, polls had said the previous general elections, in 2015, were too close to call, but the Tories then headed by David Cameron, emerged with a slim majority.
They could also be a repudiation of May’s decision in April to call for early elections. Corbyn, who staved off a recent leadership coup and whose support among his party’s base appeared to be stronger than his popularity with the wider public, was able to make major gains no one imagined—as did the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.
It’s unclear right now what impact the recent terrorist attacks had on the outcome of the results—though they are all but certain to prompt a change in the way the U.K. confronts homegrown extremism. The attacks in London last Saturday were the third since March; in all, 35 people have been killed, as a country that suffered terrorism at the hands of the Irish Republican Army for much of the last century confronts the challenge of Islamist extremists in this one.
The U.K. wasn’t scheduled to hold elections until 2020, but May, enjoying a wide lead in the polls, called for an early vote in part to bolster her party’s parliamentary majority and to enhance her negotiating position with the EU. In March, the U.K. formally triggered Brexit, nine months after Britons voted to leave the bloc. The process, which begins June 19, is expected to take two years, and Thursday’s election results ensures that the U.K. has a weak hand as, in May’s words, “negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage.”
A recent poll found Britons were worried about healthcare, terrorism, and immigration—in that order. The government will have to confront those challenges—along with Brexit negotiations—in the days and weeks ahead.