British election: Massive victory for Conservatives clears path for early Brexit

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives back at Downing Street after meeting Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on Dec 13, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday (Dec 13) promised to carve the United Kingdom out of the European Union after leading his Conservative Party to a massive general election victory that he said had "smashed the roadblock" in Parliament over Brexit.

Buoyed by his newfound majority in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson met Queen Elizabeth on Friday night to ask to form a new government and said he would work "flat out" to repay the trust of the voters. Rival Jeremy Corbyn, facing calls to step down after his party suffered grievous reverses in its traditional industrial heartland of England, said he would not fight another election as Labour Party leader.

The Conservatives won 365 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons. It was a gain of 48 from the last election in 2017, 80 seats more than all the other parties combined and the largest majority since Mrs Margaret Thatcher won a third term in 1987.

Labour won 203 seats, a loss of 59, in its biggest rout since 1935. The Scottish National Party was in third place with 48 seats while the Liberal Democrats won 11

At a rally in central London, Mr Johnson declared that he would take the UK out of the EU by Jan 31, "no ifs, no buts" because Brexit was now the "irrefutable, unarguable" decision of the British people.

He thanked Labour voters, many of whom, he said, had backed the Conservatives for the first time.

"You may intend to return to Labour next time round, and if that is the case, I am humbled that you have put your trust in me, and I will never take your support for granted," he said.

Mr Johnson made a bold bet that a snap election would hand him the parliamentary majority he needed to break a deadlock that has beset Britain since it voted to leave the EU in a June 2016 referendum. His appeal seemed to have rung true with voters frustrated over the Brexit stalemate and mistrustful of Labour's left-leaning economic plan.

In anticipation that a measure of political calm would now descend on Britain, the pound zoomed to US$1.351, its highest level since June 2018. Against the euro, it shot to three-year high of 1.207. The mid-cap stocks index FTSE 250, clubbing many companies with high UK revenues, surged about 5 per cent to record highs.

The EU Council President Charles Michel said the bloc was ready to embark on trade talks with Britain.

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US President Donald Trump, one of Mr Johnson's more enthusiastic supporters, tweeted: "Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU. Celebrate Boris!"

Congratulating Mr Johnson on his victory, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "As you negotiate your future relations with the European Union and enhance relations with other partners, including in South-east Asia, I hope that the UK will continue to be a strong advocate for free trade, multilateralism and a rules-based international order."

Analysts said both the scale of the victory and the challenges ahead were sizeable.

Mr Ian Bremmer, president of a New York-based risk consultancy Eurasia group, told The Straits Times that the hefty win could be attributed to a "combination of public exhaustion over unending Brexit negotiations and a clear Boris Johnson message that he'd put an end to them, while Corbyn didn't take a position on the issue."

Mr Johnson's big task will be coralling, in short order, a large number of new deals, including with the EU itself, to redo Britain's trading relationships.

NUS Business School's Alex Capri said: "As the UK is now obligated to seek bilateral trade deals with the rest of the world, they will discover that they have far less leverage to use for bargaining power than they did as a member of the EU."

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