U.K.'s Boris Johnson claims Brexit mandate as Tories secure majority

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 648 of the 650 results declared on Friday, the Conservatives had 363 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!"

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 lead Labour into another election, though he resisted calls to quit immediately.

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures after speaking at a campaign event at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party has won a solid 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. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds wave from the steps of number 10 Downing Street in London, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party has won a solid 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. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during the declaration of his seat in the 2019 general election in Islington, London, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. The first handful of results to be declared in Britain's election are showing a surge in support for to the Conservatives in northern England seats where Labour has long been dominant. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during the declaration of his seat in the 2019 general election in Islington, London, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. The first handful of results to be declared in Britain's election are showing a surge in support for to the Conservatives in northern England seats where Labour has long been dominant. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, second right, reacts as she loses her East Dumbartonshire constituency, during the count at the Leisuredome, Bishopbriggs, Scotland, Friday Dec. 13, 2019. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)
Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, second right, reacts as she loses her East Dumbartonshire constituency, during the count at the Leisuredome, Bishopbriggs, Scotland, Friday Dec. 13, 2019. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)
Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (L) takes a selfie photograph with her Glasgow MPs at the count centre in Glasgow on December 13, 2019 after results have been declared in the UK general election. - Exit polls and early results suggest the Tories are on course for a historic victory in Thursday's election, in which Johnson won his own seat in Uxbridge, west of London, with an increased majority. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks with members of the media at the count centre in Glasgow on December 13, 2019 as votes are counted as part of the UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster gives an interview after learning that Deputy Leader of the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) Nigel Dodds has lost his seat to Sinn Fein's new MP for North Belfast John Finucane at the count centre in Belfast on December 13, 2019 in the UK general election. - 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. (Photo by PAUL FAITH / AFP) (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)
The DUP's Nigel Dodds (centre right) reacts as (left to right) party councillor councillor Philip Brett, party leader Arlene Foster and Mr Dodd's wife Diane watch on, after losing the Belfast North seat at the Titanic exhibition centre, Belfast, for the 2019 General Election. (Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images)
Caroline Lucas (L), Green MP arrives with her son to cast her vote at a polling station in Brighton, south England as Britain holds a general election on December 12, 2019 (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
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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.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump pose during a group photo during a NATO leaders meeting at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg rejected Wednesday French criticism that the military alliance is suffering from brain death, and insisted that the organization is adapting to modern challenges. (Peter Nicholls, Pool Photo via AP)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, reaches out to shake hands with U.S. President Donald Trump at the official arrivals for a NATO leaders meeting at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg rejected Wednesday French criticism that the military alliance is suffering from brain death, and insisted that the organization is adapting to modern challenges. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks over to U.S. President Donald Trump who is talking to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to a NATO leaders meeting at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. As NATO leaders meet and show that the world's biggest security alliance is adapting to modern threats, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is refusing to concede that the future of the 29-member alliance is under a cloud. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump pose during a group photo during a NATO leaders meeting at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg rejected Wednesday French criticism that the military alliance is suffering from brain death, and insisted that the organization is adapting to modern challenges. (Peter Nicholls, Pool Photo via AP)
President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in New York. In a decision with wide-ranging political ramifications, Britain's Supreme Court plans to give its verdict Tuesday on the legality of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's five-week suspension of Parliament. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a working breakfast at the Hotel du Palais on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Donald Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, speak to the media before a working breakfast meeting at the Hotel du Palais on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (Erin Schaff, The New York Times, Pool)
FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, speak to the media before a working breakfast meeting at the Hotel du Palais on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France. Johnson says he’ll tell President Donald Trump that the U.K.’s state-funded health service will be off the table in any future trade negotiations, and that the U.S. will have to open its markets to British goods if it wants to make a deal. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times, Pool, File)
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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.

It appears that wasn't enough to boost Labour's fortunes. 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."

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