Johnson’s election gamble pays off
● Early results point to significant Conservative majority which will secure Brexit deal in Parliament ● SNP set to strengthen stranglehold in Scotland and call for fresh independence referendum ● Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faces calls to stand down afte
Boris Johnson’s election gamble has paid off with his party set for a majority in Westminster and a pledge to pursue a “ferocious acceleration” of Brexit legislation.
Early results this morning suggested the Tories were on course for a majority of more than 80 seats, while Labour could sink to fewer than 200 seats.
Labour was seeking to blame Brexit for the catastrophic defeat, with a visibly shocked shadow chancellor John Mcdonnell saying “appropriate
decisions” will be made about the future of the leadership.
In Scotland, the SNP was set for significant gains on the 2017 result, when the party took 35 seats.
It will mean that the UK is poised to finally leave the EU at the end of next month with the Prime Minister committed to bringing back his Brexit bill to the House of Commons in the coming days.
But it will also re-ignite the constitutional debate in Scotland with senior SNP figures last night insisting that the outcome provided a “reinforced mandate” for a referendum on Scottish independence which
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants to stage next year.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said legislation to get Brexit done will be introduced in the coming days to “get the country out of the paralysis”.
She added: “We will not hang around obviously. We’ve indicated that if we get a functioning majority – a Conservative majority in parliament – we will move things forward.
“That means getting Brexit done, having legislation and a Queen’s speech so that we can actually start to introduce legislation and bills in Parliament.
“That’s exactly what we said we would do in the general election campaign – deliver on the priorities – people’s priorities and pledges that we’ve made throughout the campaign, including in our general election manifesto.”
But Mr Mcdonnell said the exit poll was “extremely disappointing”.
He said: “I thought it would be closer. We knew it would be tough because Brexit has dominated this election, but yes if it’s anywhere near this it is extremely disappointing I must be honest about that.”
He admitted there were “issues raised” over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on the doorsteps, but put this down to the “media campaign against him”.
The first real sign of a political shock came with just the third declaration of the night when the Tories captured the former mining constituency of Blyth Valley, which has been a Labour stronghold since the 1950s.
Tory Ian Levy edged out Labour to seize the seat with a majority of just 712, and thanked “Boris” in his victory speech.
Other early results in the north-east of England also saw swings to the Tories in Labour heartlands, despite Labour holding on.
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said it represented a “devastating result for us” and “all the people who were really needing a Labour victory to improve their lives”.
Asked if his party needed a new leader, Mr Gardiner said: “These are things that will be discussed by the leadership of the party in the next few days.”
The Tories appeared cautious after the exit poll but said a functioning majority “would mean we can now finally end the uncertainty and get Brexit done.”
Former Conservative cabinet minister Justine Greening said “the deadlock on Brexit is finally broken”.
Speaking on the BBC, Ms Greening said: “I think, at the end of the day, my view was always that we needed to break the deadlock.
“I was one of the first members of parliament who said we needed to do that.
“We’ve now had that public vote, I think that the deadlock on Brexit is finally broken.
“But I think the reality is this election was very much about domestic issues, and I think that’s why the Conservatives have done so well, because Boris Johnson talked about the kind of Conservative agenda that people find appealing.”
Labour said – regardless of the result – the party had “changed the debate in British politics”.
A party spokesman said: “We, of course, knew this was going to be a challenging election, with Brexit at the forefront of many people’s minds and our country increasingly polarised.
“But Labour has changed the debate. We have put public ownership, a green industrial revolution, an end to austerity centre stage and introduced new ideas, such as plans for free broadband and free personal care.”
On Mr Corbyn, Ms Greening added: “But he [Boris Johnson] was up against probably one of the worst Labour leaders that we have seen in a very long time, and thus he couldn’t have had a better opponent in those respects.
“Jeremy Corbyn might have been bright, shiny and new in 2017, but by 2019, I think people have really got the measure of him and you’re also seeing that come through tonight.”
In 1962, the then US Secretary of State Dean Acheson observed the UK “had lost an Empire but not yet found a role”. For supporters, “getting Brexit done” – the big issue in the election – is key to restoring Britain’s past glories.
However, this idea overlooks the role that won the UK considerable soft power in recent decades as a champion, albeit an imperfect one, of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Added to the lasting gratitude for the decision to stand against Hitler in 1940 – the city of Oslo still sends a Christmas tree to London every year – this created an image that has served this country well and won over like-minded people, like Poland’s Donald Tusk, across the world.
Last month, the outgoing European Commission president said what he “wouldn’t have dared to say a few months ago, as I could be fired for being too frank”. Brexit, Tusk argued, would not make Britain great, but achieve “exactly the opposite”. “Only as part of a united Europe can the UK play a global role, only together can we confront... the greatest powers of this world,” he said. “The UK will become an outsider, a second-rate player... Brexit is the real end of the British Empire.” Some will dismiss this, like Acheson’s remark, as a jibe from a foreigner, but Tusk is a friend, giving his best advice.
And on Wednesday in a Chatham House discussion, John Casson, foreign policy aide to David Cameron from 2010-14, warned about declining UK influence. “The bald fact for me is British foreign policy, as I was brought up to recognise it, came to an end in September 2013, when David Cameron made a conscious decision to stop being an activist prime minister on foreign policy” after losing a Commons’ vote on intervening in Syria. Other “smaller” actors on the world stage were now making “more of a difference because they have a clearer-eyed sense of their strategic intent and the power they hold”, he said. While Boris Johnson had spoken about standing up to human rights abusers, he had also sent “contradictory signals”. “Are we an open country that aspires to set an example and stand up for a certain type of norms and influence?” Casson asked.
Brexit and the philosophy of those behind it risk diminishing Britain on the world stage. If it does go ahead, our new government needs to take steps to address a problem that would be bad for Britain but also, to an extent, the rest of the world.
FRIDAY 13 DECEMBER 2019 www.scotsman.com