The results of the European Parliament elections may shock Brussels into giving the UK a better Brexit deal, Liam Fox claimed today as he sought to put the best gloss on what was set to be a disastrous night for the Tories.
One Tory candidate had predicted the party would struggle to hold more than two of the 19 MEPs it won in 2014 as both Leave and Remain voters desert it.
“I think we’ll do really well to hold on to five, are more likely to win just two and it is not impossible we win none at all,” said the candidate who said they expected to lose their seat.
Dr Fox, the international trade secretary, tried to put the results in continent-wide perspective as he struggled to make the best of the expected drubbing. He suggested that the EU would be more willing to compromise faced with the prospect of an influx of Brexit Party MEPs.
“The results of the European election will be a shock to the body politic of the European Union,” he told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5.
“It may make them say that we need to remove the UK and remove the contagion or it may make them say let’s strike a deal, get rid of British MEPs so we can move forward as a EU27.
“I hope after the results tonight that European leaders sit up and take notice that they are taking us down a course which is creating a greater backlash from ordinary European citizens.”
Figures close to Conservative campaign headquarters believed last night that Dan Hannan, a Tory contender in the south-east of England, and Syed Kamal, a candidate in London, may yet scrape home but conceded that the outlook is grim.
Many in the party expected its national vote share to be in single figures and none expected to do any better than fourth, amounting to the worst Conservative electoral performance in modern history.
“There are signs that things aren’t quite as bad in London where our people seem to be more open to the argument that compromise is necessary but that’s very much a lone bright spot,” said a source.
Mr Hannan had earlier predicted a “total wipeout” when all of today’s results are in. “My sense for what it’s worth is that we are facing a total wipeout – zero MEPs,” Mr Hannan tweeted after polls closed on Thursday night.
Tory MPs determined to oust Theresa May had been sharpening their knives in anticipation of the fall-out from today’s results. Brexiteers had been poised to strike in the days ahead to demand a change in the rules to allow a second confidence vote within a year.
Her announcement on Friday that she will be standing down as party leader on June 7 and as prime minister by the end of July will not entirely spare her from a brutal inquest into both the circumstances and the conduct of the Conservative campaign. Mrs May made just one appearance in a much-mocked event in Bristol, did not produce a manifesto and refused to authorise all-but essential spending on mailshots.
The blame will not attach itself exclusively to Number 10 however. A number of Conservative MPs came close to actively calling on previous Tory supporters to register their protest by supporting Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
On the other side of the divide two Conservative peers, Lord Heseltine and Lord Cooper, were suspended from the Tory whip for stating their intention to vote for the Liberal Democrats.