U.K. heading toward Brexit as exit polls predict strong majority for Boris Johnson

U.K. heading toward Brexit as exit polls predict strong majority for Boris Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party looks set for a resounding victory in Britain’s election on Thursday, allowing him to deliver Brexit on Jan. 31 in what would be the country’s most significant geopolitical move for 70 years.

For Johnson, whose brief tenure in power has been marked by chaotic scenes in Parliament and stark division on the streets over Britain’s tortuous departure from the European Union, the victory is vindication.

Educated at the country’s most elite school and recognizable by his bombastic style, the 55-year-old must not only deliver Brexit but also convince Britons that the contentious divorce, which would lead to lengthy trade talks, is worth it.

A decisive win for the Conservatives would also mean disappointment for the millions of people who voted to remain in the EU in a 2016 referendum and who dared to hope the result might be overturned thanks to gridlock in Westminster.

The exit poll showed Johnson’s Conservatives would win 368 seats, enough for a comfortable outright majority in the 650-seat Parliament.

Labour were forecast to win 191 seats, the Scottish National Party 55 seats and the Liberal Democrats 13. The Brexit Party was not forecast to win any. 

Official results will be declared over the next seven hours.

In the last five national elections, only one exit poll has got the outcome wrong — in 2015 when the poll predicted a hung Parliament when in fact the Conservatives won a majority, taking 14 more seats than forecast.

In an email to party members after the exit poll result, Johnson said, “I hope you enjoy a celebration tonight. … You powered this campaign. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage said Britain would leave the European Union if Boris Johnson’s Conservatives win the majority forecast in the exit poll, but it may not be the hard Brexit he had spent his political career campaigning for.

“We are going to get Brexit. Are we going to get the right one? Maybe not,” he told BBC TV. “My purpose was to try to get the right kind of Brexit. If we get half a loaf out of it, well that’s what we’ve achieved.”

The Labour Party, led by veteran campaigner Jeremy Corbyn, had offered a second referendum and the prospect of the most radical socialist government in British history. Corbyn managed to hold onto his own constituency by a wide margin, but said tonight he would not lead the party into another election. He said he would stay on until a successor was chosen and would represent his constituency.

Labour candidate Gareth Snell said he expected to lose his seat in Stoke-on-Trent — a city once regarded as a Labour stronghold, and made clear that he wanted Corbyn to take responsibility for the party’s poor performance.

Asked if it was time for Corbyn and his finance chief John McDonnell to go, Snell replied: “Yes.”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures outside a polling station after voting in the general election Thursday. (Lisi Niesner/Reuters)

Snell said a combination of the perception that Labour was blocking Britain’s exit from the European Union, and some voters dislike of Corbyn meant he expected to lose the seat his party had held since it was created in 1950.

“It’s a lovely and toxic combination of the fact that the message in Stoke-on-Trent that’s been heard by the voters is that Labour Party tried to stop Brexit,” Snell told the BBC.

John McDonnell, the second most powerful man in the Labour Party, said the election had been dominated by Brexit, which has divided the country since 2016.

“What’s clearly come through I think in these results is that this was the Brexit election,” he said. “We were hoping a wider range of issues would cut though and have a debate. I don’t think that has been the case.”

If the exit poll is accurate and Johnson’s bet on a snap election has paid off, he will move swiftly to ratify the Brexit deal he struck with the European Union so that the United Kingdom can leave on Jan. 31 — 10 months later than initially planned.

Brexit far from over

Johnson called the first Christmas election since 1923 to break what he said was the paralysis of Britain’s political system after more than three years of crisis over how, when or even if to leave the European Union.

The face of the “Leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum, 55-year-old Johnson fought the election under the slogan of “Get Brexit Done,” promising to end the deadlock and spend more on health, education and the police.

The exit poll was produced by three broadcasters — the BBC, ITV and Sky — who teamed up to jointly produce similar surveys in the last three elections, held in 2010, 2015 and 2017.

In 2010 and 2017, their exit polls accurately predicted the overall outcome and were close to forecasting the correct number of seats for the two main parties.

Johnson’s strategy was to breach Labour’s so-called “Red Wall” of seats across the pro-Brexit areas of the Midlands and northern England, where he cast his political opponents as the out-of-touch enemies of Brexit.

While a majority will allow Johnson to lead the United Kingdom out of the club it first joined in 1973, Brexit is far from over: He faces the daunting task of negotiating a trade agreement with the EU in just 11 months.

After Jan. 31 Britain will enter a transition period during which it will negotiate a new relationship with the remaining 27 EU states.  

This can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020. 

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