Britain's UKIP heads for poll victory in EU parliamentary elections

UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage and UKIP candidate Diane Jones (left) smile after the declaration of results of the European Parliament election for the south east region, in Southampton, southern England May 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUT
UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage and UKIP candidate Diane Jones (left) smile after the declaration of results of the European Parliament election for the south east region, in Southampton, southern England May 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

LONDON (AFP) - The anti-EU mood in Europe swept Britain on Monday as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) looked set to score a historic victory in the European parliament elections.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage hailed "the most extraordinary result in British politics for 100 years" as his party secured over 29 per cent of the vote with results from three-quarters of the regions declared. That score put UKIP five per cent ahead of the second-placed Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron.

UKIP had won 22 EU parliamentary seats after nine of the 12 regions had declared - nine more seats than its total at the last European election in 2009.

The Conservatives had won 16 seats and the main opposition Labour Party 14 seats, with 23.5 per cent of the vote.

Mr Farage retained his seat in south east England, and promised further gains to come. "This is just about the most extraordinary result in British politics for over 100 years," he said. "The penny has really dropped. We have hit very hard into the old Labour vote... we're going to make a breakthrough in Scotland and our people's army will go from here.

"I promise you this, you haven't heard the last of us," he said.

With only a few results left to be counted, UKIP looked certain to gain its first MEP in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) also looked set to fail in its bid to boost its share of the vote ahead of September's referendum on whether Scotland will stay part of the UK.

If UKIP were to win overall, it would be the first time in over a century that a British national election has not been won by either of the mainstream parties of the day. The big losers were the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, coalition partners in the current national government, who managed only one EU seat.

Lib Dem president Tim Farron insisted he did not regret his party's pro-Europe stance, saying "it looks like we may have paid the price but I would do it all again."

The Green Party won two seats and Plaid Cymru one but Mr Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party, lost his seat in north west England.

'European Union must change'

Mr Farage said that the rise of anti-EU parties across the continent would shake up domestic politics. "We're going to get a good number of eurosceptics elected to the European Parliament," he said. "It's going to make a very big difference in the domestic politics.

"Up until now, European integration... always seemed to be inevitable and I think that inevitability will end with this result tonight."

Mr Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU if he wins next year's general election.

Mr Farage predicted that the Labour Party could make a similar pledge in light of Sunday's results. Foreign Secretary William Hague of the Conservatives said the rise of eurosceptic parties should serve as a wake-up call to European politicians. "People use different elections to deliver different messages," Mr Hague told BBC TV. "And certainly there is a message across Europe of disillusionment with Europe and the EU has got to hear that loud and clear."

But he sounded a note of caution about the rise of the far-right National Front (FN) in France. When asked whether the French result was a success for a racist party, he responded: "In that particular case, yes. I think we should be concerned.

"That is why it is so important that the next European Commission, the European Council, the next European Parliament do get the message that there is rising discontent."

He called for the European Union to become "more flexible and competitive" and "less centralised and remote" - in line with Cameron's pledge to push for reform of the 28-country bloc.

Mr Farage ruled out any alliance with the FN, saying it was "never going to happen." Official figures showed British turnout at 36 per cent, up from 34.7 per cent in 2009.