UK local elections have crushed any hope of changing course on Brexit

Not going well for Labour.
Not going well for Labour.
Image: Reuters/Hannah McKay
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Each year, Brits in a handful of local councils go to vote. The matters at stake—rubbish collection, road lighting, or improvements to local parks—are almost never important enough to bother you, dear reader of global news.

This year could be different: The local election is a harbinger of how the UK wants its government to negotiate Brexit with the EU.

A few weeks ago, prime minister Theresa May took a gamble by calling for an early general election, which will be held on June 8. The polls at the time showed that her Conservative party was leading by a big margin over the traditional opposition Labour party. The results of the local election suggest that she was right:

Conservatives didn’t just take seats away from Labour, they also won big in seats that previously belonged to the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the left-leaning Liberal Democrats. The results are far more dramatic than pundits predicted.

In the previous local elections, UKIP saw a surge of voters when it campaigned on a single issue of Brexit. That vote is now moving to Conservatives, who are in power and are strongly in favor of securing the UK’s exit from the EU. Left-leaning Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Greens each have a different stance on Brexit. If there is a unifying theme, it is that they oppose May’s unchecked Brexit negotiations—but that isn’t carrying much weight based on this week’s votes.

May has had a difficult time to deliver on her Brexit promises ever since taking office in July last year. First, she faced legal challenges to even trigger the process of exiting the EU. More recently, she has faced opposition from within her own party on her handling of the issue.

When she called for a general election, her hope was to increase the majority that the Conservatives hold in the British parliament so that dissenting voices could be marginalized. The local elections show that her position is strong. If there was any hope that the general election could change the UK’s course on Brexit, it’s disappearing fast.