LONDON (AP) – Boris Johnson’s gamble on early elections paid off as voters gave the United Kingdom (UK) prime minister a commanding majority to take the country out of the European Union (EU) by the end of January, a decisive result after more than three years of stalemate over Brexit.
Johnson’s promise to “get Brexit done” and widespread unease with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership style and socialist policies combined to give the ruling Conservative Party 365 seats in the House of Commons, its best performance since party icon Margaret Thatcher’s last victory in 1987. Corbyn’s Labour Party slumped to 203 seats, 59 fewer than it won two years ago, vote totals showed on Friday.
The results offer Johnson a new mandate to push his EU withdrawal agreement through Parliament. Since taking office in July, he had led a minority government and, after the House of Commons stalled his Brexit deal at the end of October, he called the election two years ahead of schedule in hopes of winning a clear majority.
“I will put an end to all that nonsense, and we will get Brexit done on time by the January 31 – no ifs, no buts, no maybes,” he said as supporters cheered. “Leaving the European Union as one United Kingdom, taking back control of our laws, borders, money, our trade, immigration system, delivering on the democratic mandate of the people.”
Johnson also offered an olive branch to Britons who want to remain in the EU, saying he will respect their “warm feelings” and build a “new partnership” with the bloc as “friends and sovereign equals.”
Speaking on Friday outside 10 Downing Street, he pledged to end acrimony over Brexit and urged the country to “let the healing begin.” He said he would work to repay voters’ trust.
The scale of Johnson’s success also marked a stinging defeat for Corbyn, who had promised to lead Labour to victory with the “biggest people-powered campaign our country has ever seen.”
Instead, voters rejected his attempt to bridge divisions over Brexit by promising a second referendum on any deal with the EU. The vote also turned away the rest of the party’s agenda, which included promises to raise taxes on the rich, increase social spending and nationalise industries such as water delivery, railroads and the Royal Mail.
Corbyn, who spent his entire career as a backbench gadfly until unexpectedly winning a party leadership election in 2015, was criticised for silencing critics within the party and failing to root out anti-Semitism among his supporters. Centrist Labour politicians were quick to call for Corbyn to step down, though he has said he will stay on during a period of “reflection” and that an internal election to choose a new leader would take place early next year.
“Obviously, it is a very disappointing night for the party,” he said after retaining his own seat in Parliament. “But I want to say this, in the election campaign we put forward a manifesto of hope. However, Brexit has so polarised debate it has overridden so much of normal political debate.”
Phil Wilson, the former Labour lawmaker from Sedgefield who lost his seat to the Conservatives, said blaming the party’s wipeout on Brexit was “mendacious nonsense.”
Corbyn’s leadership “was a bigger problem,” he tweeted. “To say otherwise is delusional. The party’s leadership went down like a lead balloon on the doorstep. Labour’s leadership needs to take responsibility.”
In an election where differences over Brexit cut across traditional party lines, several big names lost their seats the House of Commons.
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson pledged to cancel Brexit if she was elected prime minister, but she was defeated by the Scottish National Party in her constituency north of Glasgow and resigned as party leader.