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WORLD | 14-12-2019 11:39

Johnson urges Britain to move past Brexit divide after election win

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on his country to put years of bitter divisions over the country’s EU membership behind them on Friday, as he vowed to use his resounding election victory to finally deliver Brexit.

The 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, 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 hours after visiting Queen Elizabeth II to be reappointed prime minister.

Johnson staked his career on the election, which created the possibility of the pro-EU opposition rising to power and calling a new Brexit referendum that could undo the first’s results.

But the gambit paid off spectacularly, with his Tories securing 365 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons – the 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 about its future course.

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 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.

Anti-Brexit campaign groups expressed dismay at the result, which spells the end of attempts to keep Britain in the EU.

The Commons 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.

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.” 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 defended his “manifesto of hope” and maintained his policies were “extremely popular” during the campaign. But he has been dogged by accusations of sympathising with proscribed terror groups and failing to tackle anti-Semitism within the party.

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 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.

The first Scotland independence referendum failed in 2014, when 55 percent voted in favour of preserving its membership in the United Kingdom. But Scotland opposed Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union in the 2016.

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