UK's big two suffer Brexit backlash in local elections

Britain's two major political parties have both fared poorly in local elections. The results, seen as an indication of Brexit sentiment by some, saw smaller parties profit on the back of Conservative and Labour losses.

Voters in England punished both UK Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party and the Labour opposition in local council elections, results showed Friday.

Both parties, which pledged to carry out Brexit in their 2017 election manifestos, suffered badly, with more than 90% of results in.

While the Conservatives lost by far the most seats, shedding more than 1,100 local councilors, Labour dropped 100 when they had been hoping to make gains at the Conservatives' expense.

"Now this is a difficult time for our party, and these election results are a symptom of that," May told party members in Wales.

"But I think there was a simple message from yesterday's elections to both us and the Labour Party: Just get on and deliver Brexit," she added.

Divided by Brexit

The Conservatives lost most heavily in southern England, where they're traditionally strongest, while the Labour Party had its worst setbacks in its northern strongholds.

Read more: Brexit: What's gone wrong for the UK's Labour Party?

Brexit has proved a particularly divisive issue for Labour, whose membership is largely pro-Remain but whose leadership is filled with euroskeptics and whose post-industrial heartlands in the North, Midlands and Wales voted strongly in favor of leaving the EU.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2016: 'The will of the British people'

After a shrill referendum campaign, nearly 52 percent of British voters opted to leave the EU on June 23. Polls had shown a close race before the vote with a slight lead for those favoring remaining in the EU. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay, acknowledged the "will of the British people" and resigned the following morning.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2016: 'Brexit means Brexit'

Former Home Secretary Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister on July 11 and promised the country that "Brexit means Brexit." May had quietly supported the Remain campaign before the referendum. She did not initially say when her government would trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty to start the two-year talks leading to Britain's formal exit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2017: 'We already miss you'

May eventually signed a diplomatic letter over six months later on March 29, 2017 to trigger Article 50. Hours later, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the note to European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain's exit was officially set for March 29, 2019. Tusk ended his brief statement on the decision with: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2017: And they're off!

British Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, kicked off talks in Brussels on June 19. The first round ended with Britain reluctantly agreeing to follow the EU's timeline for the rest of the negotiations. The timeline split talks into two phases. The first would settle the terms of Britain's exit, and the second the terms of the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July-October 2017: Money, rights and Ireland

The second round of talks in mid-July began with an unflattering photo of a seemingly unprepared British team. It and subsequent rounds ended with little progress on three phase one issues: How much Britain still needed to pay into the EU budget after it leaves, the post-Brexit rights of EU and British citizens and whether Britain could keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2017: Go-ahead for phase 2

Leaders of the remaining 27 EU members formally agreed that "sufficient progress" had been made to move on to phase two issues: the post-Brexit transition period and the future UK-EU trading relationship. While Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her delight at the decision, European Council President Tusk ominously warned that the second stage of talks would be "dramatically difficult."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2018: Johnson, Davis resign

British ministers appeared to back a Brexit plan at May's Chequers residence on July 6. The proposal would have kept Britain in a "combined customs territory" with the EU and signed up to a "common rulebook" on all goods. That went too far for British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who resigned a few days later. May replaced them with Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

September 2018: No cherries for Britain

May's Chequers proposal did not go down well with EU leaders, who told her at a summit in Salzburg in late September that it was unacceptable. EU Council President Tusk trolled May on Instagram, captioning a picture of himself and May looking at cakes with the line: "A piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries." The gag echoed previous EU accusations of British cherry-picking.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

November 2018: Breakthrough in Brussels

EU leaders endorsed a 585-page draft divorce deal and political declaration on post-Brexit ties in late November. The draft had been widely condemned by pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers in the British Parliament only weeks earlier. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned along with several other ministers, and dozens of Conservative Party members tried to trigger a no-confidence vote in May.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2018: May survives rebellion

In the face of unrelenting opposition, May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal on December 10. The next day, she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to seek reassurances that would, she hoped, be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the deal. But while she was away, hard-line Conservative lawmakers triggered a no-confidence vote. May won the vote a day later.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

January 2019: Agreement voted down

The UK Parliament voted 432 to 202 against May's Brexit deal on January 16. In response to the result, European Council President Donald Tusk suggested the only solution was for the UK to stay in the EU. Meanwhile, Britain's Labour Party called for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister, her second leadership challenge in as many months.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Second defeat for May's deal

May tried to get legal changes to the deal's so-called Irish backstop in the weeks that followed. She eventually got assurances that the UK could suspend the backstop under certain circumstances. But on March 12, Parliament voted against the revised Brexit deal by 391 to 242. EU leaders warned the vote increased the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit. Two days later, MPs voted to delay Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Extension after second defeat

Following the second defeat of May's divorce deal, the European Council met in Brussels on March 21 to decide what to do next. EU leaders gave May two options: delay Brexit until May 22 if MPs vote for the withdrawal deal or delay it until April 12 if they vote against the deal. If the deal were to fail again in Parliament, May could ask for a long extension.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2019: Brexit deal rejected a third time

On March 29, the day that the UK was supposed to leave the EU, British lawmakers voted for a third time against May's deal — rejecting it this time with a vote of 344 to 286. Following the latest defeat, May approached the main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to find a compromise, angering hardline Brexiteers in her own Conservative party.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

April 2019: Brexit delayed until Halloween

With the April 12 deadline looming after the third defeat of May's deal, EU leaders met again in Brussels to discuss a second delay. The only question was how long should it be? In the end, the UK and EU agreed to a "flexible" extension until October 31 — which can end sooner if the Brexit deal is approved. If the deal isn't ratified by May 22, the UK would have to take part in European elections.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

May 2019: Prime Minister Theresa May resigns

Weeks of talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and the Labour party to reach a deal proved unsuccessful and further eroded her political capital. She triggered an angry backlash from her party after she tried to put the option of a second referendum on the table. The series of failures led May to announce her resignation, effective June 7, in an emotional address.

The party is split over whether it should support a second referendum that could see Brexit canceled — thus alienating pro-Leave voters — or continue to support Brexit to the chagrin of Remainers.

Meanwhile, a large number of Conservative voters are thought to have stayed away from the poll in protest at Britain's exit from the EU being delayed.

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Boost for pro-EU parties

The biggest surge in support went to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, traditionally seen as the third-biggest political force in England. The party won nearly 600 council seats, doubling their overall count.

The Green Party and independents also made significant gains. Both the Liberal Democrats and Greens have declared themselves in favor of a second referendum.

Read more: 'No-deal Brexit would poison EU-UK relations for generations'

Absent from the ballot was former UKIP party leader Nigel Farage, whose new euroskeptic Brexit party is expected to prosper from Conservative losses at the European elections later this month

More than 8,000 seats were being contested on local councils, which are responsible for day-to-day decisions about how local services, including waste management and education, are provided.

While there were also some council elections in Northern Ireland, there were none in Scotland and Wales.

Brexit: UK ministers falling like dominoes

We was raabed

Dominic Raab, the UK's Brexit secretary, who was nominally the chief British negotiator for the deal now on the table said on Thursday: " I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU." Raab was reportedly disgruntled at being sidelined in the negotiations in favor of Olly Robbins — a civil servant who's close to May.

Brexit: UK ministers falling like dominoes

On her vey

Esther McVey, the work and pensions minister, tendered her resignation shortly after Raab. In a letter to May she wrote that "It will be no good trying to pretend to [voters] that this deal honors the result of the referendum when it is obvious to everyone it doesn't."

Brexit: UK ministers falling like dominoes

'UK in a half-way house'

Shailesh Vara, the junior Northern Ireland minister, became the first member of May's government to resign over the deal on Thursday. Vara, who voted for remain in the 2016 referendum, said May's deal "leaves the UK in a half-way house with no time limit on when we will finally be a sovereign nation."

Brexit: UK ministers falling like dominoes

Not so brave

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, also quit saying in a letter "I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet." The proposed Northern Ireland backstop, she wrote, was not what the British people voted for, and threatened to break up the United Kingdom.

Brexit: UK ministers falling like dominoes

'Unacceptable deal'

Junior Education Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said in her resignation letter that it was now clear to her that "the negotiations have been built on the UK trying to appease the EU and we have allowed ourselves to be led into a deal which is unacceptable to the 17.4 million voters who asked for us to step away from the EU project and become an independent nation once again."

Brexit: UK ministers falling like dominoes

'Does not deliver a good and fair Brexit'

Ranil Jayawardena, parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, wrote in his resignation letter that the draft deal is not fair to those who voted to leave the EU "taking back control of our laws, our borders and our money. The draft agreement does not do that."

Brexit: UK ministers falling like dominoes

Brothers Johnson

Jo Johnson, the younger brother of Boris, who resigned as foreign secretary over Brexit in July, set the ball rolling last week after he resigned as transport minister over what he called Theresa May's "delusional" Brexit plans. Johnson — who backs Britain remaining in the EU — said he is supporting calls for a second referendum on whether the country should leave the bloc.

amp, rc/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)