U.K. Election Updates: Victorious Johnson Vows to Finish Brexit

U.K. Election Updates: Victorious Johnson Vows to Finish Brexit


With all but one district declared on Friday morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives had won 364 seats — 47 more than they won in the last election, in 2017.

The victory is the party’s biggest since Margaret Thatcher captured a third term in 1987 — “literally before many of you were born,” Mr. Johnson told supporters Friday morning. It gives him a comfortable majority in the 650-seat House of Commons.

“We did it,” he said. “We smashed it, didn’t we?”

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party had to reach even farther back to find a more extreme result. It won 203 seats, down 59 from the previous vote, in its worst showing since 1935. It had not suffered a similar drubbing since 1983, when it took 209 seats.

The Scottish National Party captured 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats, a gain of 13. The Liberal Democrats, who were hoping to ride an anti-Brexit stance back to prominence, won just 11 seats, one fewer than in 2017.

The Conservatives collected 43.6 percent of the popular vote, to 32.2 percent for Labour. That 11.3 percentage point margin was also the largest for the Tories since 1987 — a dramatic shift from 2017, when Labour lost the popular vote by just 2.4 percent.

Later in the morning, he told supporters, “we put an end to all those miserable threats of a second referendum” that might have reversed the results of the 2016 vote on Brexit.

“We will get Brexit done on time on the 31st of January — no ifs, no buts, no maybes,” he added.

He also promised that his government would spend more at home after a decade of austerity under Conservative governments — in particular on Britain’s National Health Service, known commonly as the N.H.S., a cherished program whose conditions have deteriorated.

Mr. Johnson said that he would seek “to unite this country and to take it forward and to focus on the priorities of the British people, and above all on the N.H.S.”

As hospital beds have overflowed, waiting times have gone up and vacancies have gone unfilled, many Britons have grown fearful that the health service could be privatized or otherwise overhauled — for instance by a trade deal with the United States that could drive up drug prices. (President Trump, tweeting congratulations on Friday morning, said Britain could “strike a massive new Trade Deal” after Brexit.)

Mr. Johnson insisted he would protect the health service, echoing his campaign promises to hire 50,000 more nurses and 6,000 doctors.

He promised again to hire more police officers, whose ranks have also thinned, and vowed “colossal new investments in infrastructure and science.”

“Let’s spread opportunity to every corner of the U.K.”

Speaking in his constituency of Islington in London, the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would step down before the next general election, but would stay at the party’s helm for now, as it reflects on how to move forward from its dismal showing.

Mr. Corbyn is already under intense pressure to resign. His has been accused of poor leadership and of failing to handle accusations of anti-Semitism in the party ranks.

“I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign,” he said. “I will discuss with our party to ensure there is a process now of reflection on this result and on the policies that the party will take going forward and I will lead the party during that period to ensure that discussion takes place and we move on into the future.”

It was not clear how long Mr. Corbyn meant to stay on as party leader. The next election could be as long as five years away.

Some members of the Labour Party were quick to criticize him on Thursday night.

“The Labour Party has huge, huge questions to answer,” Ruth Smeeth, a former lawmaker, told Sky News. She immediately laid blame on Mr. Corbyn.

“Jeremy Corbyn should announce that he’s resigning as the leader of the Labour Party from his count today,” she said. “He should have gone many, many, many months ago.”

The pound jumped in value on Thursday night and remained high on Friday, buoyed by the receding prospect of a chaotic exit from the European Union without a divorce agreement. At midmorning, it stood at about $1.34, up from about $1.32 a day earlier.

Equity markets were similarly been lifted by the broad Conservative victory, with the FTSE 250 up more than 4 percent. The FTSE 100, which includes companies that rely more heavily on overseas earnings that would be dampened by a stronger pound, rose less sharply.

If the Conservatives manage to pass the withdrawal agreement bill as planned, the gains are likely to hold up through the end of the year, said Peter Dixon, an economist at Commerzbank. Easing global trade tensions should support markets too, after the United States and China, which have been locked in a trade war, settled on a partial deal.

Prospects look more uncertain for the new year.

The current deadline gives the British government has just 11 months to negotiate a complex deal on its long-term trading relationship with the European Union. The two sides may struggle to meet the Dec. 31, 2020 deadline, once again raising the prospect of a damaging “no-deal” Brexit.

“If negotiators get stuck or bogged down or become more fractious, there’s a prospect of more volatility in the currency,” Mr. Dixon said. “The risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit might keep the market on their toes.”

In the longer term, bond yields could also start to edge up if the Scottish secessionist movement gains momentum now that the Scottish National Party won most of the seats in Scotland.

“The one thing which certain investors, maybe bond market investors, will look at again is the integrity of the U.K. following the strong Scottish result for the S.N.P.,” Mr. Dixon added.

The Scottish National Party’s success — it won 48 of the 59 seats that it contested — will intensify the debate over independence for Scotland, which voted against Brexit and has largely rejected Britain’s major parties.

In a 2014 referendum, 45 percent of the voters in Scotland backed independence, and as Brexit approaches, the Scottish National Party, which backs independence, has insisted on a second referendum.

Mr. Johnson has said a national government under him would not hold a Scottish independence vote, but the Scottish government has suggested that it might go ahead with one.

That raises the prospect of the kind of disarray and animosity plaguing Spain, where the government of Catalonia held an independence referendum two years ago that the central government said was illegal.

“The people of Scotland will have made very clear that they didn’t want Boris Johnson as P.M., that they don’t want Brexit, and they want Scotland’s future to be in Scotland’s hands,” Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, told Sky News late Thursday night. “There is a mandate now to offer the people of Scotland a choice over their own future.”

Before 2015, the Scottish National Party had never won more than seven seats in Parliament. But under Ms. Sturgeon, it has now dominated the Scottish vote in three successive elections.

On Friday morning, voters in and around the heavily pro-Labour north London constituency represented by Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader, woke up dismayed by its losses nationally.

“He failed to lead a proper campaign,” said Sarah Rose, a 43-year-old sociologist, said of Mr. Corbyn as she walked her dogs in Clissold Park. “He failed to tackle accusations of anti-Semitism, and he failed to have a sensible position on Brexit. It’s devastating.”

As expected, Mr. Corbyn won a landslide re-election in this Labour stronghold, but many people said they had doubts about continuing to support him. And as commuters headed to work in a cold drizzle, Labour sympathizers said the party needed to think long and hard about the outcome.

“Nobody here was thinking that Labour would have a majority, and it’s now clear that nobody wants a future with Corbyn,” said Tom Findlay, a 46-year-old music producer and psychotherapist.

He said he went to bed after the first exit polls on Thursday night confirmed a sweeping defeat for Labour. After he woke up early on Friday, his disappointment deepened when he heard that Mr. Corbyn would cling, for now, to his leadership position.

Mr. Corbyn told supporters he would not lead the party into another election, but that he would still oversee a “process of reflection.” He didn’t specify when he would step down.

“It’s typical of his arrogance: he is planning to stay a little bit longer while it’s so clear that he has been rejected,” Mr. Findlay said.

But he tried to see a silver lining. Many people in his part of London were devastated, he said, adding, “it’s going to be good for my therapy business, unfortunately.”

The Liberal Democrats, a centrist party that had campaigned to stop Brexit, lost ground and its leader, Jo Swinson, lost her seat in Dunbartonshire East, Scotland, to the Scottish National Party.

“Some will be celebrating the wave of nationalism that is sweeping on both sides of the border,” Ms. Swinson said. “These are very significant results for the future of our country.”

She did not immediately say whether she would resign as the party leader, but declared that the Liberal Democrats would still support “values that guide our liberal movement: openness, fairness, inclusivity.”

With the Conservatives becoming almost uniformly pro-Brexit, and Labour failing to take a clear position, the Liberal Democrats, unequivocally anti-Brexit, hoped to become the refuge for voters who wanted to remain in the European Union.

They won 11.5 percent of the popular vote, a sharp improvement on the 7.9 percent they collected in each of the last two elections. But it did not translate into victories; they won just 11 seats on Thursday, one less than in 2017.

The general election results met with disappointment and anger from unionists in Northern Ireland, who bitterly oppose Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan that would effectively put a trade border between them and the rest of Britain.

Unionists — the people, mostly Protestant, who want to remain part of the United Kingdom — view the deal as a betrayal, because it would put Northern Ireland in a separate customs system from the rest of the United Kingdom. They see that as a step toward unifying Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

“The poll clearly creates the expectation that Boris Johnson will try to force the Betrayal Act through Parliament,” said Jamie Bryson, a prominent unionist activist who is challenging the Brexit agreement in court. “An economic united Ireland will never be tolerated.”

After the 2017 election, when the Conservatives fell just short of winning a majority in Parliament, they reached an agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland that allowed the Tories to govern.

But the D.U.P. opposed Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal with Brussels because it could have resulted in Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of Britain. For them, Mr. Johnson’s deal is worse, making that difference a certainty.

Mr. Johnson’s big victory eliminates any leverage the D.U.P. had over the government, and the party fell from ten seats to eight.

Many Northern Ireland republicans — those people, mostly Catholic, who favor unification with Ireland — also oppose the deal.

Both republicans and unionists say it is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 pact that ended three decades of violence between the two communities, and threatens to inflame sectarian tensions.

“If the political process has been exhausted then potentially, we could face some very dark days ahead,” Mr. Bryson said. “And that’s obviously something everyone wants to avoid.”

Britain will have a record number of female members of Parliament after Thursday’s vote, when women won at least 220 of the 650 seats, according to the Press Association.

At just over one-third of the House of Commons, women remain far short of parity with men, but they have made tremendous gains since the mid-1980s, when there were only 23 in Parliament. In the last general election, in 2017, women won 211 seats, a record at the time.

This year’s increase comes at a time when many people feared that women were being driven away from politics in a climate of heightened divisions. Online threats and abuse have risen sharply, and were disproportionately directed at female candidates.

Ahead of the campaign, more than a dozen prominent female lawmakers said they would not be standing for re-election citing that abuse as a reason for stepping away from politics. Many female candidates described threats and insults as a grim new reality on the campaign trail, a change that cast a harsh light on British politics.

An analysis of Twitter during the campaign, conducted by PoliMonitor, showed that all candidates received about four times as much abuse as in the 2017 election. The hostility aimed at women, the study said, was often based specifically on their sex or appearance.

Reporting was contributed by Richard Pérez-Peña, Megan Specia, Benjamin Mueller, Ceylan Yeginsu, Amie Tsang, Stephen Castle and Alan Yuhas.



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