Lib Dems predict victory in Eastleigh, with UKIP in second

Counting in the by-election continues as the Lib Dems say they have held the seat and predict that UKIP has beaten the Tories.

The counting is ongoing in Eastleigh, with the Lib Dems increasingly confident that they've held the seat. The party, which first won the constituency in 1994 (another by-election), expects its majority to be in the thousands, not the hundreds (it is currently 3,864).

Both the Lib Dems and Labour are predicting that UKIP has finished second, pushing the Tories ino third place. If true, this would be a disastrous result for David Cameron. His old rival David Davis was likely right when he suggested earlier this week that it would provoke a "crisis". But Cameron's right-wing critics will have trouble explaining why the Tories performed so poorly after a hard-edged campaign that focused on immigration and welfare and after the promise of an in/out EU referendum.

Labour is resigned to finishing fourth, although the party believes it has increased its share of the vote from the 9.6 per cent recorded in 2010. The result will undermine Ed Miliband's "one nation" narrative but shadow ministers point out that while the seat is 16th on the Tories' target list, it is 258th on Labour's. The swing required to win Eastleigh would put Labour on course for a majority of 362.

Turnout was a relatively impressive 52.8 per cent, down from 69.3 per cent at the general election. We'll bring you the result as soon as it's announced around 4am.

Party representatives watch as votes for the Eastleigh by-election begin to be counted. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.