Polls have closed in the UK's European elections which Theresa May hoped would never have to be held – and which could provide a damaging blow to her Tory party.
Nigel Farage issued a warning to Westminster’s politicians that his Brexit Party would be coming for their jobs ahead of his expected success.
Results of the European contests will not start being announced until Sunday night but opinion polls have suggested Mr Farage’s party is on course for victory in the elections, which are only taking place because of the delay to Brexit.
Meanwhile the British election watchdog said it was aware of reports that EU citizens had been unable to vote in the UK – and blamed the late notice from Mrs May’s Government that the poll would be going ahead.
Results will be announced after 10pm on Sunday, when the final polls have closed across Europe.
Both Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn are braced for a backlash from voters, with Mr Farage’s party and – from the opposite side of the Brexit divide – the Liberal Democrats expected to pick up votes.
Seventy-three MEPs will be elected to represent the UK, with England, Scotland and Wales using a form of proportional representation called the D’Hondt system and Northern Ireland using the single transferable vote method.
Mr Farage, who is standing in the South East constituency, said: “If you want Brexit, you’ve got to vote Brexit.
“We did it once, they ignored us, so we’re going to tell them again.
“This time they will realise it isn’t just the votes we get today, it’s what we might get at a general election that would cost them all their jobs.
“So they better listen to what people have to say today or they’ll all be unemployed.”
In a polling day video message, Mr Corbyn warned that “the far right is on the rise” and Britain was “at a crossroads”.
“The actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future,” he said.
On a campaign visit to Worthing, he added: “This Government can’t last very long.
“And so, get ready for a general election.”
Mrs May smiled as she arrived to cast her ballot alongside husband Philip in her Maidenhead constituency, but she knows the Tories are in for a difficult set of results after a distinctly lacklustre campaign.
The European elections took place almost three years after the UK voted to leave the EU because of Mrs May’s failure to get her Brexit deal through Parliament.
The late confirmation on May 7 that voters would go to the polls was highlighted by the Electoral Commission as a factor in the difficulties faced by some EU citizens in casting their ballots.
An Electoral Commission spokesman said: “We understand the frustration of some citizens of other EU member states, resident in the UK, who have been finding they are unable to vote today when they wish to do so.
“All eligible EU citizens have the right to vote in the EU elections in their home member state.
“If an EU citizen instead chooses to vote in the EU election in the UK, there is a process for them to complete to essentially transfer their right to vote, from their home member state to the UK.
“This is a requirement of EU law, which specifies that this has to be done ‘sufficiently in advance of polling day’. UK law sets this as 12 working days in advance of the poll.”
We’re aware that some EU citizens, resident in the UK, have been unable to vote today and understand the frustration this has caused. Here’s our statement: https://t.co/jziu14L9Nf pic.twitter.com/7ukg7arASJ— Electoral Commission (@ElectoralCommUK) May 23, 2019
The spokesman added: “The very short notice from the Government of the UK’s participation in these elections impacted on the time available for awareness of this process amongst citizens, and for citizens to complete the process.”
Labour’s Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement, said: “We repeatedly warned the Government that European citizens living in the UK would be denied their right to vote because of its incompetent approach to Brexit.
“From day one, the Tories have buried their heads in the sand about these elections, even at the eleventh hour when it was clear that the Government’s botched Brexit deal would not pass.”
The 3 Million group, which campaigns for the rights of EU citizens in the UK, demanded a full investigation of the “democratic disaster”.
“These European elections are significant to so many EU citizens as this might potentially be the last nationwide vote before our voting rights will be downgraded to potholes and bin collections in local elections,” a spokesman said.
“The Electoral Commission, but also local authorities, must urgently answer why so many people were denied their right to vote.
“It is outrageous that the incompetence and unwillingness of the Government and the Electoral Commission have denied these people a vote.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “I do recognise there is frustration.
“The running of polls is rightly a matter for independent returning officers.
“It’s for them to put in place the necessary planning and contracts with suppliers to produce and deliver items like poll cards and postal votes to meet necessary timetables.
“I’m sure the Electoral Commission will take any reports seriously.”
A Local Government Association spokesman said: “Councils are hugely experienced at running elections and have worked tirelessly around the clock to get everything in place for these EU elections at short notice.”
- Press Association