LONDON • Britain's two main parties set the stage yesterday for a battle over a no-deal Brexit, hoping to win back voters who abandoned them for a new movement led by eurosceptic Nigel Farage and other smaller parties in European elections.
After a punishing night when deepening divisions over Britain's departure from the European Union were plain to see, contenders for the leadership of the governing Conservatives said the results were a demand to deliver Brexit no matter what.
Taking a different tack, the opposition Labour Party said a public vote - a new national election or second referendum - was the way to reunite the country. It pledged to make sure a new Conservative leader would not take Britain out of the EU without a transition deal to help protect the economy.
"This issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a statement.
With Mr Farage's Brexit Party, which prefers a no-deal Brexit, capturing the greatest number of votes for seats in the European Parliament, closely shadowed by a group of fervently pro-EU parties, Conservatives and Labour were under pressure to commit clearly to either side of the debate.
Mr Farage yesterday said he wanted to be included in any new negotiations to leave the EU.
Almost three years since Britain voted narrowly to leave and barely two months after the originally planned departure date, lawmakers remain at loggerheads over how, when or even whether the country will quit the club it joined in 1973.
For the Conservatives, who will appoint a new leader by the end of July, many of the would-be successors see the EU vote outcome as proof that they must seek a cleaner break, with several saying they would leave without a deal.
For Mr Corbyn, pressure will mount to embrace a second referendum without qualification - something he has said would be needed to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
But what is clear from a vote which many used as a protest is that Brexit - which forced Prime Minister Theresa May to say she will resign on June 7 after failing to deliver Britain's departure - risks shattering the election prospects of both the main parties.
Mrs May yesterday said the results were "very disappointing" and showed the importance of finding a Brexit deal.
Former foreign minister Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace Mrs May as party leader and prime minister, said the election message was "if we go on like this, we will be fired: dismissed from the job of running the country".
"We can and must deliver. No one sensible would aim exclusively for a no-deal outcome. No one responsible would take no-deal off the table," Mr Johnson said in his regular column in the Telegraph newspaper.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sajid Javid yesterday joined the leadership race to replace Mrs May, saying: "We need to restore trust, bring unity and create new opportunities across the UK. First and foremost, we must deliver Brexit."