Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is on course for victory in the European elections after support for the Tories and Labour dramatically collapsed.
The first results saw Farage’s hardline Eurosceptic party - which didn’t even exist until earlier this year - take first place in several English regions and in Wales.
The Tory party appeared to be heading for their worst national result for nearly 200 years, with less than 10% support. Jeremy Corbyn’s party also suffered big drops in support in key heartlands, including London.
The Lib Dems became the main repository for pro-Remain voters, with the Greens also picking up unprecedented support.
Nearly three years since the 2016 EU referendum left the UK bitterly divided, it appeared that millions seized on the chance to treat the latest election as a re-run of the contest.
Voters backed candidates with the clearest pro-Leave and pro-Remain messages, as Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s parties headed towards a record low combined share of the vote for a modern election.
As he won his seat in the South East region, Farage said that the public’s message was that the UK had to quit the EU this autumn, on the date agreed by Brussels and Theresa May.
“If we don’t leave on October 31, then the scores you’ve seen for the Brexit party today will be repeated in a general election,” he warned.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “with the Conservatives disintegrating and unable to govern, and parliament deadlocked, this issue will have to go back to the people”, through either an election or a referendum.
The Brexit Party backs a no-deal exit, while the Lib Dems and the Greens campaigned on a strong ‘stop Brexit’ platform.
In London, Labour suffered a stunning reverse, as the Lib Dems won three seats to its two, but the Conservatives lost both their MEPs.
In Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington constituency, Labour was beaten by the Lib Dems. In Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency, the Tory vote plunged by a massive 29% as Farage’s party topped the poll.
Among the Brexit party’s star names, former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe and Annunziata Rees-Mogg - sister of Tory MP Jacob - were both elected as MEPs.
In the North East, the Brexit Party scored a stunning vote share of 39% in the region. Labour’s support fell from 29% in 2014 to just 19%.
In a pattern that looked set to be repeated across the UK, support for the Conservatives was slashed to just 7% and the party came fifth behind the Greens. But the Lib Dems went up from just 5% in the last Euro elections to 17% in 2019.
In Wales, Labour failed to top the poll for only the second time in the last century. It came third behind the Brexit party and Plaid Cymru.
In Scotland, Labour was set to come fifth, as the SNP topped the poll with 38% of the vote.
Labour MPs, members and some activists complained that their own party’s failure to commit clearly to a second Brexit referendum led to a haemorrhage of support.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the BBC that Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee now had to change position to push policy for a fresh referendum and campaign for Remain.
“I think we are going to get a kicking,” she said.
“We were not clear on the one single thing people wanted to hear. We should have said quite simply that any deal that comes out of this government should be put to a confirmatory referendum and that Remain should be on the ballot paper and that Labour would campaign to Remain.”
The East of England region elected three Brexit MEPs, two Lib Dems, one Green and one Tory.
With Theresa May set to step aside as Tory leader next month, the Farage surge will be seized on by those contenders to succeed her who favour a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
On Sunday, Michael Gove formally declared his candidacy, bringing to eight the number of MPs who have joined the race. A further four, including home secretary Sajid Javid, are considering whether to run.
A poll of polls in the run up to the election put Farage’s Brexit Party on an average of 33%, ahead of Labour on 18.5%, the Lib Dems on 17% and Tories on 12%. The Greens had been on an average of 9% and ChangeUK on 6%.
However, some early figures suggested that areas that had voted Remain, including Cardiff, Cambridge and Wandsworth, had a higher turnout of voters than in 2014, while Leave-voting areas had a flat or lower turnout.
Other English regional results are due through the night, with Northern Ireland and Scotland due to report on Monday.
The MEP elections are only happening because Parliament remains deadlocked on a Brexit deal.
If MPs had passed May’s exit plan, the UK would have left the EU and would have been ineligible to stand candidates for the Strasbourg Parliament.