Boris Johnson and the Conservative party emerged with a landslide victory over rivals on the left dogged by an anti-Semitism scandal that contributed to their undoing.
By Associated Press
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has won a thumping majority of seats in Britain’s Parliament — a decisive outcome to a Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take the U.K. out of the European Union next month.
With 648 of the 650 results declared on Friday, the Conservatives had 363 seats and the main opposition Labour Party 203.
“We did it — we pulled it off, didn’t we?” a jubilant Johnson told supporters. “We broke the gridlock, we ended the deadlock, we smashed the roadblock!”
The victory makes Johnson the most electorally successful Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher, another politician who was loved and loathed in almost equal measure. It was a disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced calls for his resignation even as the results rolled in.
Defeat will likely spell the end for Corbyn, a radical socialist who moved his party sharply to the left after taking the helm in 2015, but who now looks to have led his left-of-center party to two electoral defeats since 2017. The 70-year-old left-winger also permitted anti-Semitism to spread like wildfire within the party, refising to apologize repeatedly and downplaying the extent to which Jew-hatred plagues the part.
“It’s Corbyn,” said former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Johnson, when asked about the poor result. “We knew he was incapable of leading, we knew he was worse than useless at all the qualities you need to lead a political party.”
U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Johnson on Twitter, and said that “Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new trade deal after Brexit.”
Corbyn called the result “very disappointing” for his party and said he would not lead Labour into another election, though he resisted calls to quit immediately.
Results poured in early Friday showing a substantial shift in support to the Conservatives from Labour. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 318 seats and Labour 262.
The result this time delivered the biggest Tory majority since Thatcher’s 1980s heyday, and Labour’s lowest number of seats since 1935.
The Scottish National Party won almost 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats, up from 35 in 2017, a result that will embolden its demands for a new referendum on Scottish independence.
The centrist, pro-EU Liberal Democrats took only about a dozen seats. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson stepped down after losing in her own Scottish constituency.
The Conservatives took a swath of seats in post-industrial northern England towns that were long Labour strongholds. Labour’s vote held up better in London, where the party managed to grab the Putney seat from the Conservatives.
The decisive Conservative showing vindicates Johnson’s decision to press for Thursday’s early election, which was held nearly two years ahead of schedule. He said that if the Conservatives won a majority, he would get Parliament to ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current Jan. 31 deadline.
Speaking at the election count in his Uxbridge constituency in suburban London, Johnson said the “historic” election “gives us now, in this new government, the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people to change this country for the better and to unleash the potential of the entire people of this country.”
That message appears to have had strong appeal for Brexit-supporting voters, who turned away from Labour in the party’s traditional heartlands and embraced Johnson’s promise that the Conservatives would “get Brexit done.”
“I think Brexit has dominated, it has dominated everything by the looks of it,” said Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell. “We thought other issues could cut through and there would be a wider debate. From this evidence there clearly wasn’t.”
The prospect of Brexit finally happening more than three years after Britons narrowly voted to leave the EU marks a momentous shift for both the U.K. and the bloc. No country has ever left the union, which was created in the decades after World War II to bring unity to a shattered continent.
But a decisive Conservative victory would also provide some relief to the EU, which has grown tired of Britain’s Brexit indecision.
Britain’s departure will start a new phase of negotiations on future relations between Britain and the 27 remaining EU members.
EU Council President Charles Michel promised that EU leaders meeting Friday would send a “strong message” to the next British government and parliament about next steps.
“We are ready to negotiate,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
Johnson has been confronted with past broken promises, untruths and offensive statements, from calling the children of single mothers “ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” to comparing Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes.”
Yet, his energy and determination proved persuasive to many voters.
“It’s a big relief, looking at the exit polls as they are now, we’ve finally got that majority a working majority that we have not had for 3 1/2 years,” said Conservative-supporting writer Jack Rydeheard. “We’ve got the opportunity to get Brexit done and get everything else that we promised as well. That’s investment in the NHS, schools, hospitals you name it — it’s finally a chance to break that deadlock in Parliament.”