Boris Johnson’s Brexit election gamble spectacularly paid off as an exit poll put the Conservatives on course for its party’s biggest victory for more than 30 years with a crushing majority of 86.
The poll predicted that Mr Johnson would win 368 seats — 50 more than Theresa May won in 2017 — while Labour was set to crash to its worst election result since 1935 with 191 seats, down 71 from two years ago.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour party leader, was under pressure from his MPs to quit in the wake of the electoral fiasco. John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, admitted the result was “extremely disappointing”.
The pound immediately shot higher as traders moved to price in a Tory victory. Sterling climbed sharply to $1.346, its highest level since June 2018, from $1.317 immediately before the exit poll.
The pound also jumped to its highest level against the euro since December 2016, at €1.203, as markets priced in the prospect that Britain might be entering a more stable political period.
Mr Johnson staked his premiership on Britain’s first December election in a century but as polls closed it was clear that the public had embraced his campaign slogan, “get Brexit done”.
The result was set to be a rout for those parties offering to reverse Brexit through a second referendum. The Liberal Democrats were predicted to win just 13 seats and Jo Swinson, Lib Dem leader, was struggling to hold her East Dunbartonshire seat.
The other big winner of the night was Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National party, who was predicted to win 55 out of the 59 seats north of the border.
The huge SNP mandate will set up a constitutional clash with Mr Johnson, who has refused to concede a second independence referendum. It leaves the UK starkly divided between a mainly Tory, pro-Brexit England and a pro-Remain, SNP-dominated Scotland.
In an early sign of the scale of the Tory victory, Mr Johnson’s party gained Blyth Valley, a former mining seat in Northumberland and Labour stronghold for generations.
Across the north and Wales, Labour votes were swinging to the Tories. Darlington, Wrexham and Clwyd South were among the previously solid Labour seats falling to the Tories.
The expected Commons majority would represent a stunning vindication of Mr Johnson and gives him the parliamentary cushion he has sought as he tries to navigate Britain’s exit from the EU. He has promised to bring forward his Brexit legislation before Christmas, with a view to Britain leaving the EU on January 31. The real slog of negotiating a trade deal with the bloc will then begin.
Some in Downing Street believe Mr Johnson will use his clear victory to sideline hardcore Tory Eurosceptics and push for a closer economic partnership with the EU to protect manufacturing jobs. Other officials say he might also undertake a U-turn and extend the transition period beyond December 2020, although he gave no sign during the campaign he would delay or water down his version of Brexit.
Mr Johnson called the election “the most important of our lifetime” and the voters rewarded him with what was set to be the biggest Tory Commons majority since Margaret Thatcher’s 102-seat victory in 1987.
Staff at Labour’s headquarters in Victoria Street, London, were silent as the scale of the defeat became apparent. Mr Corbyn’s allies tried to blame the party’s defeat on a combination of Brexit, the mainstream media and disloyal centrist MPs. Phil Wilson, a moderate Labour MP, said it was “mendacious nonsense” to suggest that Brexit was the root cause of Labour’s setback. “Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was a bigger problem,” he said.
Alan Johnson, former Labour home secretary, called on Mr Corbyn and his supporters to relinquish their grip on the party, claiming he could not “lead the working class out of a paper bag”.
In a blow for the DUP, the Northern Ireland party that once propped up Mr Johnson’s government, officials said they expected deputy leader Nigel Dodds to lose his North Belfast seat to Sinn Féin’s John Finucane.
In Brussels there was relief that Brexit indecision was potentially coming to an end and that the focus would move to building a new EU-UK relationship. “France’s position for months has been a request for clarity,” said Amélie de Montchalin, France’s Europe minister. “This clarification appears to have arrived.”
Additional reporting by Sam Fleming and Jim Brunsden
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