Victorious Johnson urges Britain to move past Brexit divide

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Britons 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 ruling Conservatives won their best result for three decades on Thursday night after promising to get Britain out of the European Union on January 31, a new deadline set by Brussels.
The snap general election turned into a re-run of the original 2016 EU membership referendum, whose outcome paralysed Britain’s leaders and created divisions across society.
But in a victory speech in Downing Street on Friday, the former London mayor struck a magnanimous tone, vowing to listen to those who opposed Brexit and lead an inclusive government.
“I urge everyone to find closure and to let the healing begin,” he said.
Johnson staked his political career on the election, which created the possibility of the pro-EU opposition coming to power and calling a new Brexit referendum that could undo the results of the first.
The gambit paid off spectacularly, with his Tories securing 365 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons — their biggest majority since the 1980s heyday of Margaret Thatcher.
It also devastated the main opposition Labour Party, which suffered its worst result since 1935.
Labour’s socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would step down after a period of “reflection” within the century-old party. 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 hopes of an end to years of uncertainty, which has hurt investment and economic growth.
Johnson said his party had an “overwhelming mandate from this election to get Brexit done”.
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. — AFP