UK's Johnson looks set for big win in 'Brexit' election

Agence France-Presse
UK's Johnson looks set for big win in 'Brexit' election
Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative party leader Boris Johnson speaks during a general election campaign rally in East London on December 11, 2019, the final day of campaigning for the general election.
AFP / Ben Stansall

LONDON, United Kingdom — Prime Minister Boris Johnson's ruling party appeared on course for a sweeping victory in Thursday's snap election, an exit poll showed, paving the way for Britain to leave the EU next month after years of political deadlock.

The Conservatives were forecast to win a thumping 368 out of 650 seats in parliament—which if confirmed would be the party's biggest majority in three decades—according to the survey published as polls closed.

The pound jumped by about two percent against the dollar on the projected results of what all sides had painted as the most momentous election in Britain in a generation.

Johnson had campaigned relentlessly on the promise to "Get Brexit Done", vowing to end years of political turmoil over Britain's future that has weighed on the economy and sharply divided the nation.

With a large majority of MPs, he will be able to get the divorce deal he struck with Brussels through parliament in time to meet the next Brexit deadline of January 31.

Ratifying the Brexit deal would formaliZe the end of almost five decades of EU-UK integration, although both sides still need to thrash out a new trade and security agreement.

EU leaders meeting in Brussels for a summit were watching the result closely, where France's European affairs minister, Amelie de Montchalin, was first to welcome the result.

"If the exit poll results are confirmed it should allow for a clear majority, something that has been missing in the United Kingdom for several years," she said.

Labour collapse 

Britons had braved winter storms and howling winds as they lined up to cast ballots in Britain's third election in nearly five years.

Johnson's victory, if confirmed by official results, would be the best result for the Conservatives since 1987, when Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street.

He tweeted his thanks to everyone who voted and supported his party, adding: "We live in the greatest democracy in the world."

By contrast, the exit poll spells disaster for the main opposition Labour party which was projected to win just 191 seats—its worst result since 1935.

Left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn had promised a second referendum on Brexit, a policy supported by many opposition parties and many voters, half of whom still want to stay in the EU.

But he had focused Labour's campaign on a radical program of economic change, including nationalizing key industries and investion massive amounts in public services and infrastructure.

His close ally, shadow finance minister John McDonnell, admitted to Sky News: "It looks as if Brexit dominated. A lot of this was Brexit fatigue. People just wanted it over and done with."

Corbyn is now expected to face calls to quit.

He was personally deeply unpopular and dogged by accusations of sympathising with proscribed terror groups and failing to tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour party.

"We knew he was incapable of leading. He's worse than useless," said former Labour interior minister Alan Johnson.

If confirmed, it will be Labour's fourth successive electoral defeat—and the second under Corbyn—which could see the party out of power until 2024.

Meanwhile the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats were forecast to win 13 seats, while the Scottish National Party (SNP) was set for almost a clean sweep, with 55 of Scotland's 59 seats.

Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson had pledged to swim naked in Loch Ness on New Year's Eve if the nationalists won 50 seats.

Brexit party influence 

Johnson had gambled in calling an early election, as he remains a polarising figure in Britain thanks to his leading role in the 2016 EU referendum vote for Brexit.

But the Conservatives were ahead in the polls from the start, and were helped by the decision by eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage to stand down his Brexit Party in Tory-held seats.

The Brexit Party is predicted to win no seats in the election, but Farage told BBC News: "We've used our influence and that's the important thing."

If confirmed the winner, Johnson will on Friday visit Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace to be formally reappointed as prime minister.

He has promised to put his Brexit plan to parliament before the Christmas break, although the main debates and votes are expected in January.

The plan covers Britain's financial settlement, the rights of EU citizens living in the Britain and British expatriates, and special trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

It also paves the way for a transition period running from January 31 to December 31, 2020, during which nothing will change while Britain agrees a new trade relationship with Brussels.

Many experts however warn that this is likely to take much longer, warning that negotiations could run on for years.

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