Theresa May’s Brexit election gamble has backfired spectacularly leaving her position at the top of the Tory party on a knife edge.
None of the parties can now reach the 326-seat requirement that would enable them to form a government.
Already questions are being asked about whether May can continue as Tory leader after calling the election in order to gain a larger majority and ‘strengthen her hand’ in Brexit negotiations.
One Tory campaign source said Boris Johnson was ‘sounding people out’ about a leadership bid while Brexit Secretary David Davis dismissed suggestions that he might mount a challenge.
The night began with an extraordinary exit poll predicting the Conservatives would lose 17 seats, ending on 314, and Labour would gain 32 finishing with 266.
As the results came through a crushing humiliation for the prime minister began to unfold. May went into the contest with a small but viable majority amid expectations she might be able to extend her advantage to 100 seats or more by going to the country three years ahead of the scheduled election in 2020.
Former Chancellor George Osborne, who was sacked by May when she moved into Number 10, said the projected result appears to be ‘completely catastrophic’ for the prime minister.
But for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who ran an effective campaign after being written off as unelectable by some observers and even many in his own party, the results proved a vindication of his left-leaning manifesto.
The Scottish National Party also suffered losses just two years after winning 56 out of 59 seats.
In seats where UKIP did not stand to clear the way for the Tories their vote was split between Labour and the Conservatives. And leader Paul Nuttall failed in his bid to win Boston and Skegness, finishing in third.
UK politics will now be to be thrown into disarray as the parties scramble to form a government just 11 days before the expected start of Brexit negotiations.
Even with the support of Northern Ireland unionists, Conservatives would struggle to form a viable administration without reaching out to other parties.
Meanwhile, a so-called ‘progressive alliance’ bringing together Labour, Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens would probably fall short of an absolute majority and produce a total only a few seats larger than the Tories on their own.
The one combination which could creep over the crucial 326 mark would be a repeat of the 2010 Tory-Lib Dem coalition, which has been explicitly ruled out by Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.
Corbyn called on May to resign and added she should ‘go and make way for a government that is truly representative of this country’.
He said: ‘Politics has changed. Politics isn’t going back into the box where it was before. People have said they have had quite enough of austerity politics.’
After being returned as the MP for Maidenhead the prime minister said that if Conservatives had won the most seats and most votes, ‘it will be incumbent on us to ensure that we have that period of stability, and that is what we will do’.
One of the biggest shocks of the night was former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg losing his seat in Sheffield Hallam to Labour’s Jared O’Mara. Other big names who lost their seats include the SNP’s leader in Westminster Angus Robertson and former leader Alex Salmond. Ipswich Tory Ben Gummer, who was part of a small team who wrote May’s doomed manifesto, also lost his seat.
Overall Labour were enjoying a swing of around 0.9% from the Conservatives.
As well as Battersea, Corbyn’s party claimed Tory scalps in Stockton South, Brighton Kemptown and Colne Valley.
Labour comfortably held on to Ealing Central & Acton, which was second on the list of Tory target seats. And it saw off Conservative challenges in Tooting, Dewsbury and Darlington.