British election: Heartbreak for UK 'remainers' as Johnson triumphs

Anti-Brexit demonstrators with flags and banners seen outside the Houses of Parliament in London, on Oct, 30, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - After all the arguments and all the mass marches, opponents of Brexit faced a stark truth on Friday (Dec 13) after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's likely election landslide: There would be no second referendum; divorce from Europe was inevitable.

With the Conservatives set to win their largest majority since 1987, Mr Johnson will be able to push his divorce deal through Parliament, allowing Britain to leave the European Union next month.

It would be the country's most significant geopolitical move since World War II.

Some supporters of another Brexit vote blamed themselves for the crushing defeat. The main organisation campaigning for a second referendum imploded, while the opposition Labour leader was ambivalent, pledging to stay neutral in another vote.

"I am distraught, and like everyone else in the remain community, wish we had more competent representation," said Mr Mike Galsworthy, an anti-Brexit campaigner, who was sipping a whisky before going to bed after seeing the exit polls come in.

The 2016 referendum on EU membership has been the most polarising issue in recent British history, crystallising divisions between cities and towns, young and old, the winners of globalisation and those left behind.

For many pro-Europeans in Britain, another referendum represented the best chance of ending the turmoil and political paralysis. If they had united into a single political force, they might have stood a chance of overturning the result.

In addition to their own shortcomings, so-called "remainers" were outmanoeuvred.

Over the past three years, support for remaining in the EU had led in almost every opinion poll, prompting some of the largest street protests in recent British history. Parliament twice forced Brexit to be delayed.

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But the main opposition parties failed to work together to forge a functional cross-party alliance, mystifying millions of Britons.

While the Conservatives consolidated the vote of those who want to leave the EU, building a coalition of pro-Brexit voters across regional and class lines, campaigners for another referendum struggled to win converts or agree on a unified plan.


Ms Gina Miller, a prominent campaigner for a second referendum, was among those who accepted there was no way back.

"There is certainly not another vote," she said, adding that Brexit would "get passed as an act of Parliament, it will then be ratified as an international treaty and we will be out".

Key to the defeat for the "Remain" camp was Labour's refusal to join an initiative aimed at encouraging tactical voting, whereby people back a candidate in order to block another rather than out of genuine support.

By contrast, the newly created Brexit Party agreed not to run against Conservatives in about half of constituencies to avoid diluting the pro-Brexit vote.

Many campaigners said the fate of their movement was inextricably linked with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the least popular opposition leader in living memory.

The most likely route to a second referendum would have been if Mr Corbyn had become prime minister. In the end, Britons voted with their feet and not their ballot papers.

Other campaigners blamed strategic errors, such as agreeing to an early election when the prime minister was trapped in Parliament, unable to pass his Brexit deal unamended.

Mr Johnson got the election he wanted when the opposition parties' united front against a vote broke.

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