The Conservative Party appeared set to win Britain’s general election late Thursday, according to the results of the country’s main exit poll.
If correct, a newly empowered Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to claim a mandate to “get Brexit done” on his terms, likely killing off any chance of a second referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union.
His Conservatives scored 368 seats, with Labour netting just 191, giving the Conservatives an unexpectedly large majority of 86 seats, if the poll is accurate. It predicted that the Scottish National Party will win 55 seats, the centrist Liberal Democrats will win 13, and smaller parties will pick up a handful of others.
Brexit was central to the campaign run by Johnson, who is pushing to leave the European Union by the end of January and called the election in hopes of shoring up support for his plan. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, favors holding a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
But with funding for the country’s National Health Service and other essential services at stake, Brexit was not the only issue on voters’ minds as they stood in long queues on a soggy day.
In the U.K., broadcasters are prohibited by law from analyzing voting results until after the polls close at 10 p.m. local time. The exit poll, which is jointly funded by the largest broadcasters, gives journalists fodder for discussion until the final tally is announced, which will likely be early Friday morning.
However, the poll is known for its accuracy. The company conducting it, Ipsos Mori, conducted tens of thousands of interviews with people after they had voted at 144 polling stations across the country.
If confirmed by the final tally, Labour will hold its lowest number of seats since 1935 ― which will likely plunge the party into crisis. By the next election, due in 2024, Labour will have had one election-winning leader in 50 years.
The results would also mark Corbyn’s second loss in a general election campaign as Labour leader.
Although the Conservatives began the campaign with a big poll lead, Labour started to close the gap as the weeks wore on. The exit poll will come as a relief for Conservative strategists, who sent an email to party activists on Thursday afternoon warning that Labour turnout was high.
Many voters observed long lines at the polls in London and beyond.
Johnson and Corbyn both criss-crossed the U.K. on Wednesday in last-ditch attempts to win over waverers and encourage people to get out to vote.
At his final rally in at the Olympic Park in east London last night, the prime minister told Conservative members they had a duty to find “every vote we can to save our country from disaster.”
Corbyn promised his party would invest in the country, end austerity and redistribute wealth and power as he addressed supporters just a few miles away in another part of the capital on election eve.