LONDON — Britain is heading for a hung parliament and days of political chaos as a shock exit poll predicted that Prime Minister Theresa May has fallen short of an overall majority.
The exit poll, published as polling stations closed at 10 p.m. local time, predicts the Conservatives will win 314 seats, with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour on 266.
With smaller parties picking up the remainder of the 650 parliamentary seats, the projected result would leave May’s Conservatives short of an overall majority and only able to govern with the support of other parties.
But with only the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist and Ulster Unionist parties, with a handful of seats between them, likely to back her, such a result could open the door for Jeremy Corbyn to lead a minority Labour government with the support of the SNP, who are projected to take 34 seats, the Liberal Democrats, projected to win 14, the Greens, Welsh national party Plaid Cymru and the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour party.
Official results from the U.K.’s 650 constituencies will be announced through the night, with the final result likely to be clear by Friday morning. But the exit poll, compiled by Ipsos MORI and GFK for the BBC, ITV and Sky and based on interviews with voters outside 144 polling stations, has been an accurate or near-accurate prediction of the final result in recent general elections.
In 2015 the exit poll correctly predicted that David Cameron’s Conservatives had come first – despite previous polls putting the lead parties neck-and-neck – and in 2010 it correctly predicted a hung parliament. The projection, if it is borne out, would confound the expectations of polling companies which, while varying, had mostly predicted a Conservative majority.
It would also be a humiliation for May, who called the election seven weeks ago with the intention of increasing her slim working majority of 17 in parliament, and securing a personal mandate for her program of government, and her strategy for the U.K.’s Brexit negotiation with the EU, which is due to begin on June 19.
Having started the campaign with a comfortable double-digit leads in the polls, the Conservatives stumbled after they were forced to revise a key manifesto pledge to fund home care for the elderly from the value of their homes, following a public backlash.
Corbyn and Labour, by contrast, gained in the polls with both major parties benefitting from diminishing levels of support for smaller parties, in particular UKIP and the Liberal Democrats.
The latter stages of the campaign were overshadowed by terror attacks at a concert in Manchester on May 22, which killed 22, and in central London on June 3, in which eight were killed and 48 injured by three terrorists who carried out a van and knife attack at London Bridge and nearby