Victorious Boris Johnson urges Britain to move past Brexit splits

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Johnson leaves after delivering a speech at 10 Downing Street in London. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (AFP) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Britons on Friday (Dec 14) to put years of bitter divisions over the country's EU membership behind them as he vowed to use his resounding election victory to finally deliver Brexit next month.

Johnson's Conservatives won their best result for three decades on Thursday night after promising to get Britain out of the European Union on Jan 31.

But in a victory speech in Downing Street, the former London mayor vowed to listen to those who opposed Brexit and lead an inclusive, "One-Nation" government.

"I urge everyone to find closure and to let the healing begin," he said, a few hours after visiting Queen Elizabeth II to be reappointed prime minister.

Johnson called the election to break the deadlock in parliament over how to implement the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit, in which he had played a leading part.

It delivered a stunning victory for the Tories, who secured 365 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons - the biggest majority since the 1980s heyday of Margaret Thatcher.

By contrast, the main opposition Labour party suffered its worst result since 1935, forcing leader Jeremy Corbyn to announce he would be stepping down.

Meanwhile the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats also had a dismal night, falling to just 11 seats and losing their leader, Jo Swinson.


London stocks and the British pound jumped on the result, amid hopes of an end to years of Brexit uncertainty that has had an impact on economic growth as well as sown social division.

Johnson said his party had an "overwhelming mandate from this election to get Brexit done - and we will honour that mandate by Jan 31", the next EU deadline.

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He promised to then focus on other public priorities, notably by increasing investment in healthcare, schools and infrastructure.

"The work is now stepped up to make 2020 a year of prosperity and growth and hope," he concluded, to cheers from aides and activists outside Number 10.

Anti-Brexit campaign groups expressed dismay at the result, which spells the end of attempts to keep Britain in the European Union, although many voters welcomed a decisive result.

"At least it's clear," said lawyer Gordon Hockey in London. "It's not necessarily what I wanted but at least we know where we stand and Brexit will happen in some form or other."


Parliament will reconvene on Tuesday and Johnson is expected to publish legislation before Christmas needed to ratify the Brexit deal he agreed with Brussels in October.

This should be passed by January but Britain and the EU still need to thrash out a new trade and security agreement - a process that officials have warned could take years.

At an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, the bloc's leaders expressed relief at the clear result and said they would work for a swift trade deal.

But they warned that any new arrangement must uphold European values and norms.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Britain would be an economic "competitor at our door" after Brexit.

The result of Britain's third election in almost five years signals a personal victory for Johnson, who remains a polarising figure.

He was a liberal London mayor for eight years but his tendency to play to the crowd - particularly with anti-immigrant rhetoric during the Brexit campaign - drew accusations of divisive populism.

US President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations on a "great WIN!" and said London and Washington would be able to strike a "massive new trade deal".

"This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the EU. Celebrate Boris!" he wrote.

Johnson has promised new free trade deals with the EU and the United States, and after Thursday's victory, now has the political capital at home to press ahead.


Labour's support collapsed on Thursday, with the Tories taking many former strongholds in northern England and Wales that voted to leave.

The party lost 59 seats to end up with 203, after what Corbyn admitted had been a "very disappointing night".

He said he would be stepping down after a period of "reflection", and would not be leading the party into the next election, which is due by 2024.

Corbyn had promised a second referendum on Brexit in a bid to appeal to half of British voters who still want to stay in the EU.

But he had focused Labour's campaign on a radical programme of economic change, including re-nationalising some key industries, which failed to woo traditional voters.

Speaking early on Friday, the veteran socialist defended his "manifesto of hope" and maintained his policies were "extremely popular" during the campaign.

But he said: "Brexit has so polarised and divided debate in this country, it has overridden so much of a normal political debate." Corbyn is personally unpopular and dogged by accusations of sympathising with proscribed terror groups and failing to tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour party.

After Labour's fourth successive electoral defeat - and the second under Corbyn - the party's ruling executive body will meet in January to consider the next steps.

After winning 48 of 59 seats in Scotland, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon stepped up the pressure for a new referendum on independence.

"The stunning election win from last night for the SNP renews, reinforces and strengthens the mandate we have from previous elections to offer the people of Scotland a choice over their future," she said.

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