Boris Johnson won a solid victory in the U.K. election, putting the country on course to leave the European Union in January 2020 after the biggest shift in British political allegiances for decades.
The result vindicated Johnson’s gamble on an early vote to break the deadlock in Parliament over Brexit that’s paralysed the country. The leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said he would stand down, while Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson lost her seat.
With counting complete in most districts, Johnson’s Conservatives passed the threshold of 326 seats to give them a majority. A revised forecast predicted the Tories would win 362 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons -- 74 more than other parties combined. The pound rose by the most in more than 2 1/2 years.
First results showed the Conservatives taking some districts from Labour for the first time ever as Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done” mantra resonated with voters. Labour was predicted to secure 199 seats, a loss of 63 and its fourth successive general election defeat.
Johnson’s projected majority -- the biggest for his party since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987 -- would give him more power to get his own way on Brexit, especially if he needs extra time to negotiate with the EU.
The only trouble spot for the Conservatives was Scotland, where support for the pro-independence Scottish National Party surged and set up a renewed constitutional stand-off over the U.K.’s future. Arguably its biggest scalp was Swinson, who lost in her district near Glasgow.
The plan now is to hurry legislation through Parliament to meet the current departure date of Jan. 31.
After holding his seat west of London, Johnson said the result was “historic.” “It does look as though this one nation Conservative government has been given a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done,“ he said. “And not just to get Brexit done, but to unite this country and to take it forward and to focus on the priorities of the British people.”
For Corbyn, the heavy losses are a catastrophe. He staked everything on a radical plan to hike taxes for the rich and nationalise swathes of industry, but candidates said he was toxic for voters on the doorstep.
Labour figures called for Corbyn to step down. He did so in his acceptance speech after holding his seat in London, though will remain in place until a successor is chosen. Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said there was no way he could carry on.
“Tonight is an absolute disaster for the Labour Party,” Ian Murray, Labour lawmaker for Edinburgh South, told the BBC. “There has got to be a change of direction. That work either has to start tomorrow or the Labour Party has to reassess what it stands for.”
Brexit has redrawn the political map of the country, but few people predicted just by how much in this election.
Former industrial areas of northern England and Wales abandoned Labour for the first time in generations, mining and steel towns that suffered from mass unemployment under the Conservatives in the 1980s now embracing the party.
Scotland, which opposed Brexit, staged a rebellion as the SNP retook seats it lost two years ago. Officials played down the revised exit polls showing it had won 52 of 59 districts, but as results came in the swing in support backed up the prediction. Leader Nicola Sturgeon reiterated her demand for another Scottish independence referendum, something Johnson has so far ruled out.
“Boris Johnson has a mandate now to take England out of the EU,” Sturgeon said. “He must accept that I have a mandate to offer Scotland the choice of an alternative future.”
In England and Wales, voters moved to the Conservatives almost everywhere, but particularly strongly in places that voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
For Johnson, a big majority would mark the culmination of an extraordinary rise to power. After he led the pro-Brexit campaign three years ago, Johnson watched as Theresa May tried and repeatedly failed to negotiate an EU divorce agreement the House of Commons would accept.
When she called a snap election in 2017 expecting a landslide, she lost the majority she started with, plunging the U.K. into two years of chaos as a deadlocked parliament failed to agree on the way forward. May was finally forced to resign, allowing Johnson to take over as prime minister in July with a promise to deliver Brexit “do or die” by the end of October.
Despite months of threats and rhetoric, he eventually secured a new Brexit deal with the EU, but could not persuade parliament to rush it into law in time for him to meet his deadline.
That was enough to prompt the premier to trigger an early election -- the next one wasn’t due until 2022 -- in the hope voters would give him the majority he needed. Johnson’s bet has paid off.