Prime Minister Boris Johnson notched a resounding victory in Britain’s general election Thursday, thrashing the opposition Labour Party and clearing the runway for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
After a chilly, rainy day of voting on the other side of the Atlantic, Johnson’s Conservative Party was on track to win a sturdy majority of 78 in the House of Commons, the BBC projected, a stinging rebuke of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that sounds the death knell for efforts to derail Brexit.
With only a handful of districts still undeclared, the Conservatives were forecast to capture 364 seats and the opposition Labour Party to pull in 203.
The Tories celebrated their largest electoral success since Margaret Thatcher won 376 of the 650 seats in Parliament in 1987.
“I want to thank the people of this country for turning out to vote in a December election that we didn’t want to call but which I think has turned out to be a historic election,” Johnson said, “that 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.”
The prime minister called for the vote to regain a majority in Parliament that he lost over the summer, and he delivered with plenty of breathing room.
Corbyn’s Labour party trailed throughout the race, according to opinion polls. He campaigned on a promise to arrange a new Brexit deal with Europe and send it back to the people in a referendum.
But Corbyn faced a chorus of complaints that he had allowed anti-Semitism to fester in his party, and some viewed his Brexit message as muddled — he declined to say which side he’d support in another referendum.
After the humbling defeat, the 70-year-old declared he would not lead Labour in future elections.
The five-week campaign was unorthodox, bitter and at times surreal, as the traditional tectonic plates of British politics appeared to shift under the pressure of Brexit.
Less than a week before election day, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair joined forces with former Conservative PM John Major to implore voters to keep Johnson from winning a majority, even if that meant strategically voting against the parties they once led. In the end, their plea fell on deaf ears.
The puzzle of Brexit has bedeviled the country ever since Britons voted to quit the 28-nation trading bloc in 2016, and it sunk the tenures of two prime ministers before Johnson took office earlier this year.
Johnson, who has struggled to win over lawmakers in Parliament, called for the first Christmas election in Britain in 96 years to strengthen his hand. The unkempt 55-year-old leader stayed on message throughout the campaign and gingerly avoided press contact, once hiding in a fridge to avoid an interview.
On Thursday, the prime minister stuck to his beat. “You have until 10pm tonight to vote to get Brexit done!” Johnson said in one of a flurry of tweets. It seemed his approach worked.
“This is an incredible result really for the Conservative Party,” Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, told the Daily News on Thursday night. “It is also historic in the sense that it will see the UK break from 40 years of diplomatic, economic — and maybe even security — links with its European partners. And it sets Britain on a completely different course.”
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