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UK's Johnson Claims Brexit Mandate     12/13 06:23

   Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party has won a thumping 
majority of seats in Britain's Parliament -- a decisive outcome to a 
Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take 
the U.K. out of the European Union next month.

   LONDON (AP) -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party has won a 
thumping majority of seats in Britain's Parliament --- a decisive outcome to a 
Brexit-dominated election that should allow Johnson to fulfill his plan to take 
the U.K. out of the European Union next month.

   With 649 of the 650 results declared on Friday, the Conservatives had 364 
seats and the main opposition Labour Party 203.

   "We did it --- we pulled it off, didn't we?'' a jubilant Johnson told 
supporters. "We broke the gridlock, we ended the deadlock, we smashed the 
roadblock!"

   A few hours later, Johnson was whisked to Buckingham Palace to meet with 
Queen Elizabeth II as part of the constitutional ritual of forming a new 
government. He is the 14th prime minister to be asked by the monarch to form a 
government. 

   Johnson's victory paves the way for Britain's departure from the European 
Union by Jan. 31.

   The victory makes Johnson  the most electorally successful Conservative 
leader since Margaret Thatcher, another politician who was loved and loathed in 
almost equal measure. It was a disaster for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy 
Corbyn, who faced calls for his resignation even as the results rolled in.

   U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Johnson on Twitter, and said that 
"Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new trade 
deal after Brexit."

   Corbyn called the result "very disappointing" for his party and said he 
would not l ead Labour into another election, though he said he would lead a 
period of "reflection'' rather than quit immediately. 

   Results poured in early Friday showing a substantial shift in support to the 
Conservatives from Labour. In the last election in 2017, the Conservatives won 
318 seats and Labour 262.

   The result this time delivered the biggest Tory majority since Thatcher's 
1980s heyday, and Labour's lowest number of seats since 1935. 

   The Scottish National Party won almost 50 of Scotland's 59 seats, up from 35 
in 2017, a result that will embolden its demands for a new referendum on 
Scottish independence.

   The centrist, pro-EU Liberal Democrats took only about a dozen seats. Lib 
Dem leader Jo Swinson stepped down after losing in her own Scottish 
constituency.

   The Conservatives took a swath of seats in post-industrial northern England 
towns that were long Labour strongholds. Labour's vote held up better in 
London, where the party managed to grab the Putney seat from the Conservatives.

   The decisive Conservative showing vindicates Johnson's decision to press for 
Thursday's early election, which was held nearly two years ahead of schedule. 
He said that if the Conservatives won a majority, he would get Parliament to 
ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current 
Jan. 31 deadline.

   Speaking at the election count in his Uxbridge constituency in suburban 
London, Johnson said the "historic" election "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 and to unleash the potential of the entire 
people of this country."

   That message appears to have had strong appeal for Brexit-supporting voters, 
who turned away from Labour in the party's traditional heartlands and embraced 
Johnson's promise that the Conservatives would "get Brexit done."

   "I think Brexit has dominated, it has dominated everything by the looks of 
it," said Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell. "We thought other issues 
could cut through and there would be a wider debate. From this evidence there 
clearly wasn't."

   The prospect of Brexit finally happening more than three years after Britons 
narrowly voted to leave the EU marks a momentous shift for both the U.K. and 
the bloc. No country has ever left the union, which was created in the decades 
after World War II to bring unity to a shattered continent.

   But a decisive Conservative victory would also provide some relief to the 
EU, which has grown tired of Britain's Brexit indecision.

   Britain's departure will start a new phase of negotiations on future 
relations between Britain and the 27 remaining EU members.

   EU Council President Charles Michel promised that EU leaders meeting Friday 
would send a "strong message" to the next British government and parliament 
about next steps. 

   "We are ready to negotiate," European Commission President Ursula von der 
Leyen said.

   The pound surged when an exit poll forecast the Tory win, jumping over two 
cents against the dollar, to $1.3445, the highest in more than a year and a 
half. Many investors hope the Conservative win will speed up the Brexit process 
and ease, at least in the short term, some of the uncertainty that has corroded 
business confidence since the 2016 vote.

   Many voters casting ballots on Thursday hoped the election might finally 
find a way out of the Brexit stalemate in this deeply divided nation. Three and 
a half years after the U.K. voted by 52%-48% to leave the EU, Britons remain 
split over whether to leave the 28-nation bloc, and lawmakers have proved 
incapable of agreeing on departure terms.

   Opinion polls had given the Conservatives a steady lead, but the result was 
considered hard to predict, because the issue of Brexit cuts across traditional 
party loyalties.

   Johnson campaigned relentlessly on a promise to "Get Brexit done" by getting 
Parliament to ratify his "oven-ready" divorce deal with the EU and take Britain 
out of the bloc as scheduled on Jan. 31.

   The Conservatives focused much of their energy on trying to win in a "red 
wall" of working-class towns in central and northern England that have elected 
Labour lawmakers for decades but also voted strongly in 2016 to leave the EU. 
That effort got a boost when the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage decided at 
the last minute not to contest 317 Conservative-held seats to avoid splitting 
the pro-Brexit vote.

   Labour, which is largely but ambiguously pro-EU, faced competition for 
anti-Brexit voters from the centrist Liberal Democrats, Scottish and Welsh 
nationalist parties, and the Greens.

   But on the whole Labour tried to focus the campaign away from Brexit and 
onto its radical domestic agenda, vowing to tax the rich, nationalize 
industries such as railroads and water companies and give everyone in the 
country free internet access. It campaigned heavily on the future of the 
National Health Service, a deeply respected institution that has struggled to 
meet rising demand after nine years of austerity under Conservative-led 
governments.

   Senior Johnson aide Dominic Cummings said that the opponents of the 
Conservatives just weren't listening to the public outside London.

   "After the shock of the referendum, MPs and journalists should have taken a 
deep breath and had a lot of self-reflection of why they misunderstood what was 
going on in the country, but instead a lot of people just doubled down on their 
own ideas," Cummings told Press Association. 

   "That's why something like this happens against expectations."

   Defeat will likely spell the end for Corbyn, a veteran socialist who moved 
his party sharply to the left after taking the helm in 2015, but who now looks 
to have led his left-of-center party to two electoral defeats since 2017. The 
70-year-old left-winger was also accused of allowing anti-Semitism to spread 
within the party.

   "It's Corbyn," said former Labour Cabinet minister Alan Johnson, when asked 
about the poor result. "We knew he was incapable of leading, we knew he was 
worse than useless at all the qualities you need to lead a political party."

   For many voters, the election offered an unpalatable choice. Both Johnson 
and Corbyn have personal approval ratings in negative territory, and both have 
been dogged by questions about their character.

   Johnson has been confronted with past broken promises, untruths and 
offensive statements, from calling the children of single mothers "ignorant, 
aggressive and illegitimate" to comparing Muslim women who wear face-covering 
veils to "letter boxes."

   Yet, his energy and determination proved persuasive to many voters.

   "It's a big relief, looking at the exit polls as they are now, we've finally 
got that majority a working majority that we have not had for 3 1/2 years," 
said Conservative-supporting writer Jack Rydeheard. "We've got the opportunity 
to get Brexit done and get everything else that we promised as well. That's 
investment in the NHS, schools, hospitals you name it --- it's finally a chance 
to break that deadlock in Parliament."


(KR)

 
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