UK's main parties suffer local elections setback over Brexit

Ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties lose ground amid frustration over Brexit, partial results show.

    Britain's main Conservative and Labour parties took a hammering in local elections as Brexit-weary voters expressed frustration over the country's stalled departure from the European Union, partial results showed. 

    With results in early on Friday from about 40 percent of the 259 local authorities up for grabs, the governing Conservatives had lost more than 400 seats and the opposition Labour Party nearly 80. 

    Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives had previously held about 60 percent of the more than 8,000 seats being contested.

    The rest of the results are due on Friday across England and Northern Ireland. Elections are not being held in London, Scotland or Wales.

    Almost three years after the UK voted narrowly to quit the EU, both the date and terms of departure remain unclear amid political gridlock in Parliament, and voters on both sides of the issue are unhappy.

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    "The people that voted to remain blame us for leaving and the people that voted to leave blame us because we haven't left yet," said Conservative politician Tim Warren, who lost his seat on Bath and North East Somerset Council in southwest England.

    He said voters' mood was "almost anti-political ... I think they want to punish us for a lack of action in government."

    "We'll see what final results of local elections look like by the end of day, as they are pretty mixed geographically up to now, but so far message from local elections: 'Brexit - sort it', Message received," Labour's John McDonnell said on Twitter.

    The biggest surge in votes went to the centrist, pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who gained 304 council seats. 

    Independent candidates won 215 council seats and Greens, which also backs a second referendum, gained 42, the partial results showed.

    'No democracy'

    Britain was due to have left the EU on March 29, but the departure has been delayed until October 31 because May has been unable to get Parliament's backing for her divorce deal with the EU.

    Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, reporting from Richmond in North Yorkshire, said the local election results are just one of the "chilling effects of the disaster of Brexit".

    "People are so disgusted that they're refusing to participate in the democratic process because they have lost faith in politics," he said. 

    "It certainly presents a major problem when people start questioning the point of voting in what's supposed to be a democracy," Lee added. 

    "I don't think there is a democracy to be quite honest. It's a cover. They give you the impression there's a democracy but there's not, they're there for their own agenda," John Fowles, a Richmond resident, told Al Jazeera.

    The Conservatives are traditionally strong in the areas being contested on Thursday and were defending a high water mark.

    These local authority seats were last contested in 2015, alongside the general election in which then-Prime Minister David Cameron won a surprise majority for the centre-right party.

    'Mini second referendum'

    The Conservatives and Labour are bracing for even worse results in the European Parliament elections on May 23.

    The main parties face additional opposition from new forces on the political scene - the anti-EU Brexit Party and the pro-European Change UK. 

    With the polls coming too soon to find the thousands of candidates, neither ran in Thursday's local elections.

    "Those European elections will be much more significant than the local elections - a mini second referendum on Brexit in their own terms," said Al Jazeera's Lee.

    "Those will provide a much clearer picture as to whether England at least still wants to leave the EU or not."

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies