"It's always disappointing to lose hard-working, conservative local councillors," Sunak said. However, he does not see any "massive growth in a movement towards Labor," said the prime minister.
The campaign coordinator of the opposition Labor party, Shabana Mahmood, saw things differently and spoke of a "disaster for Rishi Sunak". Labor leader Keir Starmer told party supporters in Medway, southeast England, that the party had achieved "fantastic results across the country in places that we had to win".
The count should be completed in all constituencies by Friday. The last polling stations closed at 10:00 p.m. (11:00 p.m. CEST) on Thursday.
If the trend of the early results is confirmed, it would be the worst Tory defeat in local elections since the mid-1990s. Labor then came to power at the national level with Tony Blair after a landslide victory.
"We are on our way to a Labor majority in the next general election," Starmer said. The British House of Commons elections are scheduled for next year.
Labor was initially able to gain 148 seats in local and city councils, including in embattled places such as Plymouth, Medway and Stoke-on-Trent, in the so-called Midlands. Seven years ago, 70 percent of voters there voted for Brexit.
The Liberal Democrats also gained 65 seats, mostly in wealthy, conservative constituencies. "We are exceeding all expectations," said party leader Ed Davey.
At the national level, the Tories have been trailing Labor by up to double digits in the polls for months. Polls showed voters concerned about double-digit inflation and the high cost of living. There is also a crisis in the state's National Health Service and widespread strikes by doctors and nurses for better pay.
Sunak also defended a change in the law on Friday that would require voters to show photo ID when voting for the first time. The electoral commission said it would investigate numerous reports that voters were turned away from polling stations on Thursday.