Fri. 9:16 a.m.: UK’s Johnson claims Brexit mandate as Tories secure majority
LONDON (AP) — 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 649 of the 650 results declared on Friday, the Conservatives had 364 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!”
A few hours later, Johnson was whisked to Buckingham Palace to meet with Queen Elizabeth II as part of the constitutional ritual of forming a new government. He is the 14th prime minister to be asked by the monarch to form a government.
Johnson’s victory paves the way for Britain’s departure from the European Union by Jan. 31.
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.
Corbyn said an internal election to choose a new party leader to replace him will happen early next year and that he will step down then.
As the bitter recriminations began about Labour’s failed campaign, former Labour Party Home Secretary Alan Johnson called Corbyn “a disaster on the doorstep. Everyone knew that he couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag.”
Next take if you need: In the immediate aftermath of the election, 70-year-old Corbyn said he would not lead the party into another election but resisted calls to step down immediately.
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.
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.
The pound surged when an exit poll forecast the Tory win, jumping over two cents against the dollar, to $1.3445, the highest in more than a year and a half. Many investors hope the Conservative win will speed up the Brexit process and ease, at least in the short term, some of the uncertainty that has corroded business confidence since the 2016 vote.