Theresa May is tonight facing up to the prospect her election gamble has backfired after a stunning exit poll predicted a hung parliament.
The forecast of today’s election results suggests a catastrophic loss of seats for the Conservatives that would leave Mrs May teetering on the brink of being booted out of power. The Tories are predicted to be on 314 seats – down from 330 – with Labour up to 266, the SNP on 34 and Lib Dems on 14.
But an early result from Newcastle Central suggested the final outcome might not be as bad as feared – with Tories picking up votes from Ukip despite many also flowing to Labour as it held the safe seat.
If the exit poll is borne out by actual results overnight it will mean Jeremy Corbyn has spectacularly proved the pundits and the opinion polls wrong. And it could plunge the country into total chaos, leaving us rudderless with barely a week to go until critical Brexit negotiations are due to start.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry immediately turned the screw on Mrs May by demanding that she resign.
She said the PM was being punished for ‘hubris’ in calling an election to get a ‘blank cheque’ for Brexit – and made clear that Labour will seek to form a government if it can.
Theresa May had her husband Philip by her side as she voted in the election today
Jeremy Corbyn cast his ballot at a local school in his constituency of Islington in north London
They are predicted to be on 314, with Labour on 266, the SNP on 34 and Lib Dems on 14
The pound slumped on the bombshell news tonight, as markets had priced in a solid Tory win
The sensational forecast means Mr Corbyn is within touching distance of No 10, depending on the final tally. It could also lay the ground for a fresh general election to sort out the chaos likely to ensue at Westminster.
The exit poll has previously proved highly accurate, although in 2015 it did slightly underestimate the scale of David Cameron’s victory.
The bombshell news sent the pound tumbling dramatically, as markets had priced in a solid Tory victory.
The SNP also appears to have fared dreadfully – with their numbers at Westminster plummeting from 54 to 34. Big beasts such as Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson are in the firing line.
Losing seats would be an unprecedented setback for a Prime Minister who called a snap election while riding high in the polls. A slew of senior figures including home secretary Amber Rudd and former minister Anna Soubry could be axed.
The estimate was greeted with disbelief on social media, with Gary Lineker branding it the ‘biggest own goal’ in history. Piers Morgan said the PM was ‘toast’.
However, there is a note of caution as the exit poll – which interviewed 30,450 people as they keft 144 polling stations across the UK – appears to have found that dozens of constituencies are too close to call, suggesting the picture could change.
Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon cautioned against reading too much into projections ‘before we have had a single actual result’.
CAN YOU TRUST THE EXIT POLL? WHY THE 10PM SURVEY SHOULD BE RIGHT
The exit poll commissioned by the BBC, Sky and ITV tonight is a vast, secretive exercise overseen by elections expert Professor John Curtice.
It was carried out by NOP/Ipsos MORI and asked 30,450 people at 144 polling stations how they voted in today’s general election – far more than the normal 1,000 person sample.
The data was all filtered back to Professor Curtice’s election centre in London.
In recent elections exit polls have been close to the result – getting it almost exactly right in 2001, 2005 and 2010.
The exit poll stunned Westminster in 2015 by showing David Cameron as on course for victory after a campaign thought to have been neck and neck.
Historically the record is more mixed: In October 1974, the exit poll predicted a majority of 132 for Harold Wilson – he actually secured a majority of 3.
There was no exit poll after the EU referendum last year – one of the reasons the final result was such a shock.
Labour’s John McDonnell agreed that it was too early to call the result, but added that if the poll was correct it would ‘change the nature of politics’ in the UK.
‘If it is right, then I think her position is becoming increasingly untenable. I tell you why – if you listen to what people are saying, Theresa May promised on seven different occasions that she wouldn’t go for a snap general election,’ he told the BBC.
‘And she went for it on the basis that she wanted to secure a mandate that she already had. People just saw through that. They saw this as an election which was for party advantage rather than the interests of the country. And it looks as though they’ve rejected her as a result.’
Mrs Thornberry was jubilant, saying: ‘Just think only seven weeks ago the hubris of the Prime Minister who was 20 points ahead, who wanted to have a blank cheque, she wanted to do whatever she wanted with the country with Brexit, with the economy, with our National Health Service and we said no and we meant it.
‘And we put forward a popular manifesto with a leader of the party who has withstood the most extraordinary personal attacks, and has actually shown if anybody was strong and stable it was him.
‘And this is a great result, if it’s true.’
Ms Thornberry said Mrs May should ‘consider her position’ as she will have ‘manifestly failed’ if the exit poll turns out to be correct.
On what Labour would do, she added: ‘We will see what happens next but if the Labour Party is called on to provide the next government, we will do so and do it in a unified way under a popular manifesto… with a leader who is strong.’
Former chancellor George Osborne told ITV the numbers in the forecast implied that no party would be able to form a stable government.
‘If the poll is anything like accurate this is completely catastrophic for the Conservatives and for Theresa May,’ he said.
‘It’s difficult to see, if these numbers are right, how they would put together the coalition to remain in office.
‘But equally it’s quite difficult to see how Labour could put together a coalition.
‘It’s on a real knife-edge.’
Mrs May called the election seven weeks ago while enjoying record-breaking advantages and was never thought to be behind during the campaign.
The loss of seats will raise immediate questions about Mrs May’s future as Conservative leader – even if she is able to cobble together the votes in Parliament to stagger on at the head of a minority government.
The failure of either side to win outright would plunge Britain into chaos just 11 days before negotiations with Brussels are due to start.
The country could be forced to head back to the polls within months.
There have already been a major backlash about Mrs May’s campaign – which was widely regarded as the party’s worst since 2001.
The Conservative manifesto backfired after measures to curb costs of social care were branded a ‘Dementia Tax’, forcing Mrs May to perform a painful public U-turn.
There was also significant fallout from the PM’s decision to refuse to take part in televised debates.
Meanwhile, she was ridiculed for her robotic repetition of the phrase ‘strong and stable’ and refusal to answer questions directly.
The shock exit poll flew in the face of research during the campaign that consistently gave the Tories a big lead
Despite the spectacular exit poll tonight, there is still a long way to go until the final seat scores are known
Sunderland is traditionally one of the earliest seats to declare its results. It is a safe Labour constituency
Former chancellor George Osborne said the forecast appeared to be ‘catastrophic’ for the Tories, and questioned whether any party would be able to form a government
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn was seen to have performed above expectations, with the Labour manifesto being relatively well received and the leader even managing to dress more smartly.
As a result the polls narrowed dramatically over the course of the past three weeks, with some showing the gap down to as little as a single point.
But Tories had pinned their hopes on the veteran left-winger’s track record of supporting the IRA during the 1980s, refusal to back the nuclear deterrent, and soft stance on terrorism continued to dog him.
ELECTION NIGHT: THE KEY MOMENTS TO LOOK OUT FOR
10pm: Polls close at the exit poll is published, giving the first clear hint at the results of today’s election.
11pm: The first seats will be called in the north east – almost certainly for Labour.
1am: Nuneaton, traditionally a bell weather seat, is due to declare. The Tories won it in 2015 and holding on will be a clear signal May is headed back to No 10.
1.30am: Results are due from Darlington and Wrexham. If the Tories make gains, it would be a sign they are having a good night.
2am: Crucial Labour targets in Bury North, Peterborough and Thurrock declare. Labour must be making gains if they are to defy expectations.
2.30am: Jeremy Corbyn will received his own result in Islington North. The tone of his speech will set the mood for Labour’s night.
3am: In Scotland, Moray is due to declare – currently held by the SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson. It has been targeted by the Tories and would be a huge scalp for May.
4am: Results will now be flooding in. Look for Tory gains from Labour in Birmingham Northfield, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Walsall North and the Liberal Democrats Carshalton and Wallington and Southport.
There were also a series of car-crash interviews by shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, ending when he was forced to sideline her from the post citing ‘illness’.
Just hours ago a final model produced by Lord Ashcroft suggested Tory support has ‘hardened’ in recent days and Mrs May was on course for a majority of 96.
This would have been a substantial increase on the majority of 12 seats the Tories got in the 2015 election.
The latest figures from Lord Ashcroft were based on surveys carried out on Tuesday and Wednesday which showed that Tory supporters indicated that they were more likely to go out and vote than they had in previous surveys.
Although the pollsters also crunched the figures to look at how many seats the Tories will win if turnout is slightly lower.
They found that if turnout is the same as the 2015 election, the Tories would win an estimated 364 Conservative seats and have a majority of 78.
And if everyone who claims to have voted in the EU referendum votes today the estimated number of Conservative seats falls to 351, giving Mrs May a majority of 52.
However, an Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard – also published today – put the Tories on course for victory but with a smaller majority.
The survey put the Tories on 44 per cent – eight points ahead of Labour who are on 36 per cent.
If this is translated at the polling stations this would give Mrs May a majority of around 40 seats.
While a series of polls published this morning also pointed towards a hardening in Tory support during the dramatic closing stages of the campaign.
The findings are a boost for Mrs May, who arrived at her local polling station in Maidenhead this morning with her husband Philip by her side.
While Jeremy Corbyn gave a thumbs up to reporters as he arrived to cast his ballot in Islington, north London.
The findings come after the two leaders yesterday crisscrossed in a final effort to drum up support for today’s vote.
Mrs May last night urged voters to ‘reignite the British spirit’ and back her to steer Britain through Brexit.
A string of polls published this morning also mainly pointed towards a last-minute boost for the Tories.
A YouGov poll for The Times put the Tory lead on seven points, with the Conservatives on 42 per cent and Labour on 35 per cent – down three points from their last survey.
Theresa May arrives at the polling station in her constituency of Maidenhead this morning to cast her ballot – as the polls suggested her support has hardened in the closing days
The Labour leader gave a thumbs up as he arrived at the polling station in North London. He has told his supporters that opponents underestimated him in the campaign
Theresa May, pictured arriving at the polling station this morning, is hoping to be returned as PM with an increased majority after today’s General Election
The PM, pictured voting with her husband Philip today, has asked the British public to return her to Downing Street with an increased majority so she has a stronger hand in Brexit talks
HOW DOES MAY’S SCORE STACK UP?
Theresa May is on track to lose her majority with just 314 seats according to tonight’s exit poll.
This is how it compares to other results of recent decades:
David Cameron in 2015: Tory majority of 12
Tony Blair in 2005: Labour majority of 66
Tony Blair in 1997: Labour majority of 179
Margaret Thatcher in 1983: Tory majority of 144
Margaret Thatcher in 1979: Tory majority of 43
If the pollster was right, it would return Theresa May to No 10 tomorrow with an increased majority of nearly 50 seats.
In a post on its website explaining the findings, YouGov said it expects the Tories to be ‘returned with an increased majority’ on Friday.
It added: ‘The Conservatives still look set to secure a solid lead in votes and an overall majority.
‘The question is how large.’
It also predicts that the Tories will snatch a ‘good handful’ of seats from the SNP in Scotland – ending their decades of electoral decline north of the border.
Meanwhile, an ICM poll for the Guardian gave the Tories a bigger, 12-point lead – which if true would translate into a very healthy majority of 96 seats.
It has the Conservatives on 46 per cent, up one point compared to their poll on Monday, while Labour is unchanged on 34 per cent.
A ComRes poll for The Independent gave the Tories a 10-point lead over Labour, with Theresa May’s party on 44 per cent and Labour on 34 per cent.
Armed police were on guard at the count in Sunderland as the polls closed tonight
Counting staff around the country are preparing to receive the ballot boxes from polling stations, including in Sunderland (pictured)
Votes will be counted in all 650 constituencies around the United Kingdom over the next few hours as they shape of Britain’s new Parliament is revealed
Nicola Sturgeon arrives at the polling station with her husband Peter Murrell in Glasgow this morning. The SNP face the prospect of having several of the seats snatched away by the Tories
Miss Sturgeon and her husband cast their ballots in a community centre. Scotland’s First Minister has said a strong showing for the SNP in today’s election will give her a fresh mandate to hold another independence referendum – despite holding one just three years ago
Nuns leave St John’s Parish hall in central London, where they voted this morning. Britain goes to the polls today in what the PM has described as the most important election in her life
As Britain votes in the General Election today the final opinion polls point towards a hardening of Tory support in the closing stages of the General Election campaign
THE FINAL ELECTION POLLS OUT TODAY
Modelling carried out by Lord Ashcroft Polls shows that the Tories could win as many as 373 seats – giving Theresa May a majority of 96.
An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard: Tories on 44%, Labour on 36%, Lib Dems on 7%, Ukip on 4%, Greens on 2%, Other on 1%.
This would give the Tories a majority of around 40 seats.
A YouGov poll for The Times: Tories 42%, Labour 35%, Lib Dems 10%, Ukip 5%. This, taken with YouGov’s Scotland findings, translates into majority of 48 seats.
An ICM poll for The Guardian: Tories 46%, Labour 34%, Lib Dems 7%, Ukip 5%, Others 8%, translating into an estimated Tory majority of 96 seats.
But the polls have varied wildly throughout the election campaign, and one survey has Labour and the Tories neck and neck.
Survation’s final pre-election survey put the Tories on 41.3 per cent with Labour marginally behind on 40.4 per cent.
A final ‘poll of polls’ by the Press Association – which takes the seven day rolling average of all published polls, gives the Tories on an eight-point lead over Labour.
And translating this into seats, they predicted that Mrs May will be returned to No 10, with the Tories getting a total of 348 seats.
Mrs May shocked the the nation when she called the snap election in a surprise speech on the steps of no 10 in April.
She has described the election as the most important in her lifetime and stressed that only she can be trusted to stand up to Brussels and deliver Brexit.
But the campaign has been overshadowed by he terror attacks in Manchester and London.
Mr Corbyn has claimed that he has changed the face of British politics by putting forward a tax and spend manifesto which exerts said is the most left-wing in the party’s history.