It wasn’t even close – and Christmas came two weeks early for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives as the party claimed a comfortable win in Britain’s general election on Thursday. And as soon as the polls closed, a combined exit poll from the UK’s broadcasters predicted a 86-seatmajority for the rookie Prime Minister – a man who has only led the party since July.
Overnight returns from up and down England and Wales confirmed the scale of Johnson’s victory – picking up seats from Labour in areas that have voted red for decades and leaving the party with its lowest number of votes since 1935.
What’s all the more remarkable is that in the months between entering 10 Downing Street and the election’s call five weeks ago, Johnson had been humiliated at Westminster in a House of commons unable to agree to any plan to break the Brexit deadlock and united only by its determination that the Conservative leader would not be able to take Britain out of the European Union without any deal.
Now, barely two months from a string of parliamentary defeats, Johnson has a very comfortable majority of 80 seats of so – and a mandate to Get Brexit Done by January 31.
While that’s a campaign slogan that played well on the highstreets and doorsteps of a nation paralysed by Brexit ever since a majority of Britons voted 52 to 48 per cent to end Britain’s four decade marriage with Brussels, there is still plenty of work to be done.
UK negotiators will have to hammer out a free trade agreement in the coming months. The withdrawal agreement he negotiated with Brussels allows for a transition period that could extend up to the end of 2022.
Now, with a fresh mandate to hand, Johnson will be pushing to formally end ties with the EU by the end of 2021 instead – but he has to get that free trade deal first and ensure the UK remains generally aligned with Brussels on the environment, labour law, transport and security.
Throughout the campaign Johnson managed to avoid seriously embarrassing moments or incidents, but he did come in for criticism for refusing to engage with Britons in unscripted settings.
Nevertheless, given the scale of his victory, his personal leadership style did convince roughly 45 per cent of voters to back his party and its stance on Brexit.
The election win vindicates Johnson’s get tough approach to Brexit – at one point in September the UK’s highest court ruled that he had misled Queen Elizabeth in proroguing parliament to stifle debate on Brexit before a issued October 31 deadline. Chastised, parliament was recalled, with the Prime Minister unable to control the legislative agenda as his party split between hard-line Brexiteers and those who backed staying in the EU.
Now, the Eton-educated former journalist will see Queen Elizabeth return to Westminster next Thursday to unveil his legislative agenda, and bringing the Withdrawal Bill back for quick passage.
Aged 55, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is coy when it comes to saying just exactly how many children he has – a reluctance that some on the campaign tried to paint as a matter to trust.
He was actually born in New York to parents who were diplomats, and was consequently was educated at the European School of Brussels, Ashtown House, Eton and Oxford. He began his journalism career at The Times but was sacked for falsifying a quotation.
He then became the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels Correspondent. Now, as Prime Minister, he gets to take his nation out of the political, social and economic bloc where he gained a reputation for critical coverage that at times veered from facts.
He went on to become the paper’s Assistant Editor for five years before leaving in 1999 to take over the editorship of The Spectator magazine.
His first term at Westminster came after being elected in the very safe Tory seat of Henley, just west of London on the River Thames in the 2001 election, and he held the seat until he took a run at becoming the directly elected Mayor of London. He won, and proved to be highly popular with most of the capital’s voters.
Some of his decisions there may yet prove embarrassing, with one ethics report on his relationship with a female American entrepreneur shelved until after the election campaign.
Any fallout from that, however, will be quickly forgotten by Conservative MPs who now command the biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 win – she had a majority of 144 seats.
Her tenure ended in divisions within the conservatives over the EU. Now, Johnson has ensured that those divisions are done and dusted after three decades. That is perhaps his greatest win – succeeding where Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May failed.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe