Friday

3rd Feb 2023

Huge win for Conservatives in UK election

  • Prime minister Boris Johnson also promised to reunite British society (Photo: Downing Street)

Britain is almost certain to leave the EU in January after a huge election win for Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson, but Scotland aims to break off and stay.

The result, in which Johnson's pro-Brexit Conservative party scored its biggest win since the 1980s with some 365 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons, meant it was the "irrefutable, inarguable" will of the British people to leave the EU, Johnson said in his victory speech in London on Friday morning (13 December).

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  • Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party had promised a second referendum (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

He promised to leave Europe by 31 January "no ifs, no buts, no maybes", but also to reunite British society in a "one nation" government.

The opposition Labour Party, which had campaigned for a second Brexit referendum, suffered its worst defeat since the 1930s.

"Brexit has so polarised and divided debate in this country, it has overridden so much of normal political debate," its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said after promising to quit before the next election.

The Liberal Democrats, who campaigned to cancel Brexit, also did badly, with its leader losing her own seat.

But the pro-EU Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) surged ahead to win 47 out of 59 seats in Scotland after promising a second independence referendum.

"Scotland has sent a very clear message ... we don't want to leave the EU," SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said.

"I have a mandate to give Scotland a choice for an alternative future," she added, referring to her plan for a second independence vote.

"Nationalism is sweeping both sides of the border," Liberal leader Jo Swinson also said.

Johnson's win came after Labour lost dozens of seats in its working class heartlands in northern England in what Corbyn blamed on media bias, but what several of his own MPs blamed on his eccentric personality and vague stance on Europe.

"[Some] 17.4m voting for Brexit [in the 2016 referendum] and basically being ignored is not a good recipe ... Ignore democracy and to be quite honest the consequences will come back and bite you up the backside," Ian Lavery, Labour's chairman, said.

"They have taken working-class voters for granted and that arrogance, if that doesn't change, then Labour is finished as a political force in this country," former Labour MP John Mann added.

The Tory majority meant Johnson will be able to hammer through his EU withdrawal deal in parliament in time for the January Brexit deadline.

But it also meant he would be less reliant on hardline eurosceptics inside his own party to stay in power, freeing his hands to forge closer ties with Europe after the UK left.

"The bigger the Tory majority of course the less influence over this the ERG and eurosceptics will have. It will be called Brexit but it won't really be," Nigel Farrage, the leader of the anti-EU Brexit Party said, referring to a eurosceptic Tory party club, the European Reformist Group.

The Brexit Party won no seats.

The financial markets welcomed Thursday's result, with the British pound climbing in value against the US dollar and the euro and European shares soaring upward on hopes it meant an end to uncertainty on Britain's future status.

Several EU leaders also welcomed the result on the same grounds at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

11 months

"I think the best thing for Ireland, the UK and Europe would be for an end to the uncertainty," Irish leader Leo Varadkar said.

But they also noted the UK now had just 11 months to negotiate a new trade accord with the EU, according to Johnson's plan to end a post-Brexit transition period by 2021.

"It means that we will move forward with our separation now. We now have 11 months to hash out a deal. It's a very short time," Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven noted.

"It will be important tomorrow to get the mandate for the next steps from the EU Council, so this will be our focus," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen added.

The 27 EU leaders planned to agree the basic mandate for future UK trade relations on Friday.

A draft text said they would start talks "immediately" after 31 January, aiming to "ensure a level playing field" for businesses on both sides of the English Channel.

But for his part, US president Donald Trump also promised the UK a new trade deal, setting the scene for a transatlantic tug-of-war on Britain's economic future.

"Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT," Trump tweeted.

"This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU," he said.

EU gears up for post-Brexit renovation

Both EU member states and the parliament want to be ready in January with an agreement on how to involve citizens in a serious attempt to rethink the future of the EU. But institutional issues would come first.

Johnson pushes for December election, puts aside Brexit bill

The British prime minister will try another legislative path to get an early election - and he might get enough support if he ditches the Brexit bill for now. Meanwhile, the EU has granted an extension until January 2020.

EU sighs relief after 'decisive' Johnson victory in UK

The remaining 27 EU countries also told the UK to quickly ratify the withdrawal agreement, and start negotiations on future trade. The EU is keen to protect its own interests and prevent unfair competition from Britain.

Von der Leyen warns of tough Brexit talks in 2020

The EU Commission president told MEPs in Strasbourg that time is running out in the expected 11 months available to strike a future trade deal with the UK - negotiations will have to continue into 2021 too.

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