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It would be foolish to offer a final verdict on the European election results, since Scotland and Northern Ireland have yet to declare, but a brief summary of what they suggest so far is in order.

Although very many people are disengaged from the Brexit debate, it is producing a type of political engagement more often seen in other parts of Europe.  The EU referendum vote is perhaps the only event in our recent political history to provoke anything like the cultural passions of the Dreyfus Affair.

It might well be otherwise had Brexit been delivered on March 29 as promised.  Polling evidence suggests that most of those who voted Remain accept the decision to leave.  Blame whoever you will for that failure to deliver the referendum result.  Either or whatever way, it has left a vacuum which neither of the main parties is filling.

Which is why the Brexit Party came first and the Liberal Democrats, now more or less recovered from their Coalition unpopularity, came second.  One says No Deal.  The other, No Brexit.  For the Conservatives, the result is the next worst one to a wipeout.  Only three MEPs, our columnist Daniel Hannan among them, stagger back to Brussels.

The Tories’ new leader will almost certainly be a Brexiteer, he or she will probably favour No Deal as a last resort, and a small section of Conservative anti-No Dealers, led by Philip Hammond, will try to stop him – perhaps deserting their own Party for a confidence vote.

Labour did a bit better than the Tories yesterday so far, but in some ways their plight is even worse.  The Conservatives are now a Leave party – certainly at the grassroots, predominately now among MPs, less so near the top of government.

Labour are horribly divided between the Remain and Leave causes.  Its London MPs are mostly for Remain.  Away from the greater South-East, the party is menaced by the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats in different seats.  The key will be what those non-southern MPs now make of a second referendum – and revoke.

No Deal or No Brexit?  The question will be put to the Conservative leadership contenders more insistently than ever now.  And they will find it harder to fudge it.

619 comments for: Divided Britain

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