Humiliated May finally leaves her bunker: PM breaks cover after PULLING her hated Brexit Bill as she faces 'annihilation' at the hands of Nigel Farage in today's EU elections

  • Theresa May's plan to bring forward new Brexit Bill is in tatters after repeated attempts to woo Labour MPs
  • Last opinion poll before today's election shows that Brexit Party has a 23 point lead over the Conservatives
  • Tory MEPs accused leadership of 'abandoning' them and say they expect that the party will be wiped out 
  • Commons leader Andrea Leadsom dramatically resigned last night as Mrs May's grip on No10 loosened 

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Theresa May today left her Downing Street bunker today after dramatically pulling the vote on her hated Brexit Bill - and edging closer to the political exit door.

The Prime Minister ventured out for the first time since a major Cabinet mutiny that saw Andrea Leadsom quit last night - and left the government's plans in tatters. 

MPs have been told the legislation will not now be published tomorrow and the second reading will not take place in the first week of June - despite Mrs May previously laying out the timetable.

The humiliating retreat is the clearest sign yet that Mrs May's time in power is drawing to a close, after fury at her compromise offer for the Commons to vote on whether to hold another Brexit referendum.   

Half-a-dozen other senior ministers - including Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and Penny Mordaunt - looked ready to follow Mrs Leadsom out the door if she had not changed course. 

The PM's spokesman today confirmed the U-turn, insisting: ‘She is listening to colleagues’. 

It comes as millions of British voters are heading to the polls to give their verdict on Mrs May's failure to deliver Brexit as her own MEPs warned they will all be wiped out spelling 'the end of our party'.

The Tories are predicted to get 12 per cent of the vote in the European elections - 23 points behind Nigel Farage Brexit Party who are on 35 per cent.

The PM's party is also trailing Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the final opinion poll before today's election has revealed, but they may just edge out the Greens. Some polls showed the Tories could win just seven per cent of the vote - their lowest share in history.

Calls by Tory MPs for the Prime Minister to quit after the polls close at 10pm have hit fever pitch with former May loyalist, Sir David Evennett, a south-east London MP, tweeting: 'Theresa May must now resign. We need a new PM a new Cabinet and a new approach to Brexit.'

However, in a sign of the depth of Tory divisions, digital minister Margot James complained that the PM was being 'hounded out' by Brexiteers. Mrs May has also moved to fill the gaps in her team, promoting Treasury minister Mel Stride to fill the Cabinet job vacated by Mrs Leadsom. 

The premier is now facing overwhelming pressure to fall on her sword tomorrow, when she meets the chair of the powerful Tory 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady.

If she refuses to set a timetable for standing down as leader the committee will almost certainly change the rules to allow a fresh no-confidence vote - in which she would be doomed to defeat.  

Theresa May finally left Downing Street today as she faces the end of her premiership after a brutal Tory revolt

Theresa May finally left Downing Street today as she faces the end of her premiership after a brutal Tory revolt

A jubilant Nigel Farage outside a polling station in Kent today with his Brexit Party apparently racing towards victory

A jubilant Nigel Farage outside a polling station in Kent today with his Brexit Party apparently racing towards victory

Andrea Leadsom appeared to seal Mrs May's fate last night by resigning from the Cabinet in protest at the Brexit Bill

Andrea Leadsom appeared to seal Mrs May's fate last night by resigning from the Cabinet in protest at the Brexit Bill

Tories have predicted the party's candidates will be wiped out in today's Euro elections with North West MEP Sajjad Karim warning today his party 'will live to regret' allowing people to vote today by failing to deliver Brexit, and said candidates had been cut adrift.

He said: 'We will be annihilated, the Conservative party will be annihilated. It was pretty much a case of sending in the foot soldiers and then the generals abandoned the battlefield. It was quite clear those that were supposed to be backing us up on the battlefield all abandoned as well, and the candidates were all left there looking for where the next round of bullets was going to come from'.

MPs’ secret poll on getting rid of May 

The powerful 1922 committee last night held a secret ballot on whether to force Theresa May out of No 10, the Mail understands.

The executive of ‘men in grey suits’ voted to decide whether to change the rules and allow a second no confidence vote in the Prime Minister within six months.

Under existing rules she would be safe for a year, but the committee has been under pressure from MPs to allow a move against her.

The votes will only be opened if Mrs May refuses to quit tomorrow after the European elections.

She has agreed to meet Sir Graham Brady, the committee’s chairman to discuss her future and MPs will only open the ballots and consider a rule change if she fails to go.

One source said Sir Graham argued against changing the rules during the meeting of the 18-strong executive. He said it would set a precedent which could undermine future leaders.

Current rules allow a story leader to face a no confidence ballot by MPs once in any 12-month period.

A ballot is triggered if 15 per cent of MPs write letters to the 1922 committee chairman. The leader must then win a simple majority of MPs in a secret ballot to stay in office.

In December an attempted coup by Eurosceptic Tory MPs fell short with 117 votes against and 200 in favour.

But MPs opposed to Mrs May have since argued for a change in the rules so she could be forced from office with another vote within six months.

And in private messages, fellow Brussels Tory Daniel Hannan said the Conservatives will be left with no MEPs as voters flock to Nigel Farage's new party.

He also warned that the Tories faced 'the end of our party' and the election of a Corbyn government. 

Mr Hannan, who represents the South East of England, made the comments on a WhatsApp group for Tory activists. 'I am expecting us to end up with zero MEPs,' he wrote. 

'Sadly it will give Corbyn unstoppable momentum and this, paradoxically, will derail Brexit. Funny old world.' In separate messages, he suggested the Tories could slip below 10 per cent when votes are counted.

'If our members stay away, or vote for another party, we may well slip below 10 per cent – a level from which no party bounces back.

'We're looking, not just at a Corbyn government, but at the end of our party as a viable movement.'

Mrs May's grip on power is failing following a dramatic Cabinet revolt yesterday where ministers savaged her concessions to Labour over Brexit.

Mrs Leadsom piled pressure on the Prime Minister by announcing her own resignation from the Cabinet last night. 

In a parting blast, the Commons Leader said she could not stomach the latest version of Mrs May's Brexit deal, with its offer of a second referendum.

Other ministers are said to be ready to go too if the Prime Minister tries to cling to power after today's European elections. 

Government whip Mark Spencer, filling in for the departed Commons leader today, told MPs that the Bill was being pulled.

It had been due to be published tomorrow, then debated and voted on in the week of June 3, immediately after the half-term recess. 

Mr Spencer said: "We will update the House on the publication and introduction of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on our return from the Whitsun recess." 

Tory backbenchers were in uproar over Mrs May's decision to seek Labour support in the hope of getting her deal through the House of Commons at the fourth attempt. 

At one stage yesterday, some aides believed she was on the verge of quitting on the spot – and even started preparations for a resignation statement. 

But chief whip Julian Smith later told the 1922 Committee that Mrs May intended to campaign in today's elections and would instead meet Sir Graham tomorrow.

Sources said meetings with senior ministers were postponed because Mrs May was having her regular audience with the Queen, who she was expected to brief on her intentions.

Conservative MPs were in uproar over the Prime Minister's decision to seek Labour support in the hope of getting her deal through the House of Commons at the fourth attempt.  

Outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable and his wife Rachel Smith voting in Twickenham today

Outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable and his wife Rachel Smith voting in Twickenham today

Labour party Leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves after voting in the European Parliament election at a polling station in Islington

Labour party Leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves after voting in the European Parliament election at a polling station in Islington

Monks Father Mark Caira (front) and Father Leonard Norman from the Sancta Maria Abbey after casting their vote in the European Parliamentary election at Garvald Village Hall, Garvald, East Lothian

Monks Father Mark Caira (front) and Father Leonard Norman from the Sancta Maria Abbey after casting their vote in the European Parliamentary election at Garvald Village Hall, Garvald, East Lothian

Conservative MP and leadership hopeful Boris Johnson left his London home this morning (pictured) amid the turmoil

Conservative MP and leadership hopeful Boris Johnson left his London home this morning (pictured) amid the turmoil

From hard Brexiteers to Remainers, the race for No 10

Boris Johnson 5/2

Age: 54. Former Foreign Secretary. His support for Brexit was vital to Leave's win.

Background: Known for being identified by just one name, Boris, for his show-off Classics references and for chaotic private life.

EXPERIENCE: Twice voted London mayor.

STRENGTH: Starry, charismatic and clever crowd-pleaser.

WEAKNESS: Bumbling foreign secretary. May struggle to win MPs' support. A 'Stop Boris' campaign is likely.

VERDICT: Party grassroots love him

Dominic Raab 5/1

Age: 46. Former Brexit Secretary. Diehard Brexiteer.

Background: Son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938 and died of cancer when Raab was 12.

EXPERIENCE: Lasted only four months as Brexit Secretary. Voted against May in leadership confidence vote.

STRENGTH: Skilled debater who honed his skills as an adversarial lawyer with blue chip legal firm Linklaters.

WEAKNESS: Seen as too clever by half and lacking people skills.

VERDICT: In second place in ConservativeHome's leadership league table.

 Matt Hancock 16/1

Age: 40. Health Secretary. Arch Remainer.

Background: Father bought their council house. Ran his own computer software business before becoming Chancellor George Osborne's chief of staff.

EXPERIENCE: Cabinet minister for only 18 months. Seen as a 'coming man'.

STRENGTH: One of life's Tiggers with ambition and enthusiasm to match his brainpower.

WEAKNESS: Never knowingly modest, he once foolishly likened himself to Churchill, Pitt and Disraeli.

VERDICT: Little known among Conservative Party members.

Amber Rudd 33/1

Age: 55. Work and Pensions Secretary. Remain cheerleader.

Background: Daughter of a Labour-supporting stockbroker and Tory-leaning JP.

EXPERIENCE: Became Home Secretary after just six years as an MP. Resigned over the Windrush scandal after inadvertently misleading MPs.

STRENGTH: Tough operator who was restored to Cabinet within six months.

WEAKNESS: Holds seat with majority of only 346. Headmisstressy manner but an accomplished performer.

VERDICT: Ninth in leadership league table.

Esther McVey 50/1 

Age: 51. Former Welfare Secretary. An ardent Brexiteer.

Background: Spent the first two years of her life in foster care. Was a breakfast TV presenter before becoming a Tory MP on Merseyside.

EXPERIENCE: As welfare minister was viciously targeted by Labour.

STRENGTH: Tough and telegenic. Won plaudits with members for resigning from Cabinet over Brexit deal.

WEAKNESS: Some say she doesn't have the intellectual fire power for top job.

VERDICT: Ranked 14th in league table.

Penny Mordaunt 20/1

Age: 46. International Development Secretary. Arch Brexiteer.

Background: Her mother died when she was a teenager. Cared for younger brother. EXPERIENCE: Was a magician's assistant. Appeared in the reality TV show Splash!

STRENGTH: Only female MP to be a Royal Naval Reservist. Attended Lady Thatcher's funeral in uniform.

WEAKNESS: Inexperienced, having been in Cabinet for less than two years. Has never run a major Whitehall department.

VERDICT: Edged up to 11th in ConservativeHome league table.

Andrea Leadsom 16/1

Age: 55. Leader of the Commons. Ardent Brexiteer.

Background: A former City trader. Mother of three.

EXPERIENCE: Struggled in her first Cabinet post, as Environment Secretary.

STRENGTH: Blossomed as Leader of the Commons, winning plaudits for taking on Speaker John Bercow.

WEAKNESS: Stood for leader in 2016 but made ill-considered comment comparing her experience as a mother to the childless Mrs May.

VERDICT: Has soared to the top of the ConservativeHome table of competent ministers.

Michael Gove 10/1

Age: 51. Environment Secretary. High priest of Brexiteers.

Background: Adopted son of a Scottish fish merchant.

EXPERIENCE: Figurehead for Leave during referendum campaign. Cabinet heavyweight who's served as Education Secretary and Justice Secretary.

STRENGTH: Brilliant debater with razor sharp intellect.

WEAKNESS: Still suspected of having a disloyal gene after knifing Boris Johnson in last leadership contest.

VERDICT: Popular with the Tory members, who, crucially, will vote for the new leader. 

Liz Truss 50/1

Age: 43 Chief Secretary to Treasury. Brexiteer.

Background: Raised by Left-wing parents and as a child was marched through the streets on anti-Thatcher protest shouting: 'Maggie out!'

EXPERIENCE: Joint-author in 2012 of a controversial booklet, Britannia Unchained, which alleged 'the British are among the worst idlers in the world'.

STRENGTH: A genuine free-marketeer.

WEAKNESS: Poor public speaker with a mixed ministerial record.

VERDICT: Only 15th in ConservativeHome leaders league table.

Sajid Javid 16/1

Age: 49. Home Secretary. Remainer who changed to Brexit after the referendum.

Background: Son of a bus driver who came to Britain from Pakistan with £1 in his pocket. Was head of credit trading at Deutsche Bank.

EXPERIENCE: Previously Culture and Business secretary, cracked down on union rights.

STRENGTH: An extraordinary rags-to-riches back story that we will hear more of during the leadership campaign.

WEAKNESS: Widely seen as a wooden and a poor speaker.

VERDICT: In 4th place in ConservativeHome league table.

Jeremy Hunt 10/1 

Age: 52. Foreign Secretary

Background: Eldest son of Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt. Married to a Chinese wife and he speaks Mandarin.

Before politics, set up an educational publisher which was sold for £30million in 2017.

EXPERIENCE: Longest-serving health secretary in history.

STRENGTH: Among the most experienced ministers in the field who, unusually, has made few political enemies.

WEAKNESS: Some, though, regard him as a 'bit of a drip'.

Verdict: Seen by many as man who could best unite party on Brexit.

Andrea Leadsom's full resignation letter 

Dear Prime Minister

I am proud to have served in your Government since 2016, first as your Environment Secretary and for the last two years as Leader of the House of Commons, and pay tribute to the excellent work of my civil servants in both roles.

More recently, setting up the new complaints procedure, putting in train the restoration of the Palace of Westminster, introducing Proxy Voting for MPs, proposing a new strategy to support early years, and ensuring the timely delivery of our legislative programme, my role as Leader of the Commons has been highly rewarding, and I am grateful to have had these opportunities.

I stayed in Cabinet to shape and fight for Brexit. There have been some uncomfortable compromises along the way, but you have had my determined support and loyalty in your efforts to deliver Brexit as our shared goal.

I no longer believe that our approach will deliver on the referendum result, for the following reasons:

1. I do not believe that we will be a truly sovereign United Kingdom through the deal that is now proposed;

2. I have always maintained that a second referendum would be dangerously divisive, and I do not support the Government willingly facilitating such a concession. It would also risk undermining our Union which is something I passionately want to see strengthened;

3. There has been such a breakdown of government processes that recent Brexit-related legislative proposals have not been properly scrutinised or approved by Cabinet members;

4. The tolerance to those in Cabinet who have advocated policies contrary to the Government's position has led to a complete breakdown of collective responsibility.

I know there are important elections tomorrow, and many Conservatives have worked hard to support our excellent candidates. I considered carefully the timing of this decision, but I cannot fulfil my duty as Leader of the House tomorrow, to announce a Bill with new elements that I fundamentally oppose.

I fully respect the integrity, resolution and determination that you have shown during your time as Prime Minister. No one has wanted you to succeed more than I have, but I do now urge you to make the right decisions in the interests of the country, this Government and our Party.

It is therefore with great regret and with a heavy heart that I resign from the Government.

Best

Andrea

A YouGov poll for the Times showed both main parties being hammered when the results are published on Sunday. 

It put the Brexit Party on 37 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 19 per cent and Labour on 13 per cent, just one point ahead of the Greens. The Tories were in fifth on seven points, just four ahead of Ukip. In a sign of ebbing support among activists, the ConHome website urged Tory supporters to abstain rather than vote for the party unless Theresa May quits ahead of polling today.

A former civil service boss was accused of ditching Whitehall impartiality by announcing he would be voting for the Lib Dems today.

Lord Gus O'Donnell said it was his 'civic duty' to vote for the most consistently Remain party.

The former cabinet secretary rote in the Times that the clearest choice was 'voting Liberal Democrat in England, so that's what I will do'. He said: 'I would urge all those who support Remain to do the same. It feels very strange to be specifying a preference for a particular party.

'However, as a crossbencher in the Lords, and faced with a decision that will affect generations to come, I believe it is my civic duty to vote and there is now no reason not to be clear about how I use this precious power that democracies bestow on their citizens.'

Tory MP Neil O'Brien said: 'The trend of former senior civil servants getting involved in politics and particularly declaring their allegiance is going to be very bad for the civil service longer term.'

Yesterday another Conservative peer was suspended from the party whip for pledging to vote Liberal Democrat in the European elections.

Lord Cooper, the founder of pollster Populus who was David Cameron's director of strategy in Downing Street, received the punishment two days after it was imposed on former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine.

He tweeted: 'I have come to the same conclusion as Michael Heseltine, for exactly the same reasons – and will be voting Lib Dem in Thursday's European parliament elections.'

Lord Cooper was subsequently told by his chief whip that 'endorsing the candidates of another party is not compatible with taking the Conservative whip'.

Labour peer Lord Cashman said he had quit his party to vote Lib Dem.

The former EastEnders actor said: 'I can't trust Jeremy Corbyn or the people around him on the defining issue in postwar Britain, so on Thursday I will not be voting for the Labour Party. As Matthew Parris said, I am not a Liberal Democrat, but I support their absolute consistency. Voting Lib Dem in the EU elections.'

Later he wrote: 'I think I've just resigned from the Labour party by declaring that I will support the Liberal Democrats in the European elections.'

Visions of Maggie: How images of bleary-eyed Theresa May being driven from Downing Street recall the final days of Mrs Thatcher's 11-year reign 

Pictures of a bleary-eyed Theresa May being driven away from Parliament last night bore an uncanny resemblance to those memorable shots of Margaret Thatcher on her last political legs in late 1989.

The then-Mrs Thatcher was seen in tears in the back of her car after a merciless string of Cabinet resignations. 

The Daily Mail's headline on November 22 - six days before she announced her departure - read 'Battling On', as she desperately scrambled for her colleagues' support as they filed in to Downing Street to see her one by one.

But with her Deputy Geoffrey Howe and Chancellor Nigel Lawson gone and the second-lowest ratings of any post-war Prime Minister, it was only a matter of time before the Iron Lady crumbled. She resigned on November 28. 

The final week of Mrs Thatcher's premiership are strikingly similar to the horrific few days Mrs May has had.  

She too faced a key ministerial resignation after Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said she could no longer support her approach to Brexit. 

Other ministers are said to be ready to go too if the Prime Minister tries to cling to power after today's European elections.

A bleary-eyed Theresa May leaves Parliament in the back of her car after a brutal day in Westminster yesterday

A bleary-eyed Theresa May leaves Parliament in the back of her car after a brutal day in Westminster yesterday

It is understood that Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and David Mundell will use ministerial meetings with Mrs May today to warn that they also consider the Withdrawal Agreement Bill unacceptable in its current form.

But she refused to see any of them on Wednesday afternoon, leading to claims she has 'holed' herself up in Downing Street amid the full-scale Brexit revolt.

Similarly Mrs Thatcher initially promised she would 'fight on' and 'fight on to win', despite failing to secure the 15 per cent majority she needed in the Tory leadership vote. 

But she was forced to face facts when her own party demanded she withdraw. 

Michael Heseltine's Tory leadership bid, which was eventually overshadowed by John Major, was also based on profound differences over Europe.

This week Brexiteer Boris Johnson emerged as the favourite to replace the PM, who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum.

And with Andrea Leadsom effectively launching her campaign for the top job yesterday, today is likely to be the day we find out just when Mrs May plans to step down. 

The Daily Mail front page from November 22 - six days before she resigned as Prime Minister - shows Margaret Thatcher in tears in the back of her car, much like Mrs May last night

The Daily Mail front page from November 22 - six days before she resigned as Prime Minister - shows Margaret Thatcher in tears in the back of her car, much like Mrs May last night 

Key Brexiteers were glaringly absent from PMQs yesterday amid claims 'secret meetings' are taking place to oust Mrs May

Key Brexiteers were glaringly absent from PMQs yesterday amid claims 'secret meetings' are taking place to oust Mrs May

 

EU faces the populists: Britain and the Netherlands are the first to go to the polls as nationalist movements go up against pro-Brussels parties

Polls opened in the UK and Netherlands on Thursday as voting got underway to decide the make-up of the European Parliament.

Ballots will be cast across the 28-nation bloc until Sunday, pitting pro-European centrists against a rising tide of populism and Euroskepticism.

It comes against the backdrop of Britain attempting to negotiate its way out of the trading bloc following the Brexit referendum.

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom party and a nationalist figurehead, casts his vote in The Hague on Thursday as voting gets underway in the EU elections

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom party and a nationalist figurehead, casts his vote in The Hague on Thursday as voting gets underway in the EU elections

Polling stations opened in the Netherlands (Amsterdam airport, pictured) and the UK on Thursday, and will continue across all 28 member states until Sunday

Polling stations opened in the Netherlands (Amsterdam airport, pictured) and the UK on Thursday, and will continue across all 28 member states until Sunday

Voters are being asked to chose MEPs that make up the EU's 751-member parliament in what is being billed as an election to decide Europe's future

Voters are being asked to chose MEPs that make up the EU's 751-member parliament in what is being billed as an election to decide Europe's future

Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom party and one of Europe's most outspoken nationalists, cast his ballot at The Hauge on Thursday morning. 

Hours earlier, he had attended a rally alongside other populist, nationalist and far-right leaders in Milan where they issued a cross-continental rallying cry against the European Union.

Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy's Lega Nord party; Marine Le Pen, of France's National Rally; and Jorg Meuthen, representing Germany's far-right AfD, also attended along with leaders of six other nationalist parties.

Aside from Salvini, who serves as the deputy Prime Minister of Italy in a coalition, all of their parties have failed to gain power at domestic elections.

However, big wins at the European Elections - where proportional voting systems often favour smaller, less-established parties - would send a message to Brussels about the direction the continent is heading in.

The pro-European bloc is being led by Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron, who insist that unity is the best buffer against shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order.

Hoping to topple the European old-guard are a coalition of nationalist, populist and far-right leaders including Dutch Geert Wilders (left), Italy's Matteo Salvini (centre), Germany's Jorg Meuthen (second right) and France's Marine Le Pen (far right)

Hoping to topple the European old-guard are a coalition of nationalist, populist and far-right leaders including Dutch Geert Wilders (left), Italy's Matteo Salvini (centre), Germany's Jorg Meuthen (second right) and France's Marine Le Pen (far right)

French President Emmanuel Macron has pitched himself as Europe's foremost pro-EU politician, after Angela Merkel announced her intention to step down

French President Emmanuel Macron has pitched himself as Europe's foremost pro-EU politician, after Angela Merkel announced her intention to step down

In the Netherlands (pictured) eccentric populist Thierry Baudet's Forum for Democracy party is running neck-and-neck with Prime Minister Mark Rutte's centrist VVD party

In the Netherlands (pictured) eccentric populist Thierry Baudet's Forum for Democracy party is running neck-and-neck with Prime Minister Mark Rutte's centrist VVD party

While populist parties have largely failed to gain power in domestic elections, a strong showing in European elections would send a signal about where the continent is headed

While populist parties have largely failed to gain power in domestic elections, a strong showing in European elections would send a signal about where the continent is headed

President Macron says the challenge is 'not to cede to a coalition of destruction and disintegration' that will seek to dismantle EU unity built up over the past six decades. 

On Thursday morning, U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released a message with a warning that 'the far-right is on the rise' and adding that 'the actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future.'

Voters across Europe elect a total of 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when the UK leaves the EU. 

The Dutch make up just 26 currently and 29 after Brexit. 

The UK has 73 European lawmakers, who would lose their jobs when their country completes its messy divorce from the EU.

Results of the four days of voting will not be officially released until Sunday night, but Dutch national broadcaster NOS will publish an exit poll after ballot boxes close Thursday night.

The Netherlands could provide a snapshot of what is to come. Polls show the right-wing populist Forum for Democracy led by charismatic intellectual Thierry Baudet running neck-and-neck with the center-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

While the country, an affluent trading nation, profits from the EU's open borders and single market, it also is a major contributor to EU coffers. 

Britain was not scheduled to take part in the elections, having announced its intention to leave Europe on March 29, but after a failure of negotiations is now participating

Britain was not scheduled to take part in the elections, having announced its intention to leave Europe on March 29, but after a failure of negotiations is now participating

Nigel Farage's newly-formed Brexit Party is leading the polls, amid warning that anything other than a strong anti-EU showing will be used as a reason to hold a second Brexit referendum

Nigel Farage's newly-formed Brexit Party is leading the polls, amid warning that anything other than a strong anti-EU showing will be used as a reason to hold a second Brexit referendum

The issue of EU membership still starkly divides Britain, with Remain voters centred in London (pictured) while regional voters favour leaving

The issue of EU membership still starkly divides Britain, with Remain voters centred in London (pictured) while regional voters favour leaving

Elections will continue across the EU until Sunday, when the results will be announced (pictured, campaign posters in Belgium)

Elections will continue across the EU until Sunday, when the results will be announced (pictured, campaign posters in Belgium)

Skeptical Dutch voters in 2005 rejected a proposed EU constitution in a referendum.

Baudet, whose party emerged as a surprise winner of provincial elections in March, identifies more with hard-line Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban than with the nationalist populist movement led by Salvini.

However, in a debate Wednesday night, Baudet called Salvini a 'hero of Europe' for his crackdown on migration.

'The immigration we get here from Africa and the Mideast is completely contrary to our culture, our values, our way of life, tolerance, love of women and so on,' he said. 

'That has to stop and it will not happen at the European level.'

Meanwhile, in the UK, the governing Conservative party - which has been handling the country's shambolic Brexit negotiations - is braced for an electoral wipeout amid speculation that Prime Minister Theresa May could be forced from power.

Nigel Farage's Brexit Party has been polling strongly ahead of the vote, with the Euroskeptic figurehead warning that anything other than a strong anti-EU result will be used as a reason to hold a second referendum on Brexit.

Pro-Remain Liberal Democrats - who have been leading calls for a second referendum - polled well in recent local elections, leaving the result far from certain.

A breakaway group of MPs from both Labour and Conservative parties campaigning for Remain under the moniker Change UK has further complicated the picture. 

 

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European elections: May pulls Brexit Bill as she faces 'annihilation'

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