British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims the Brexit deal with the European Union will make the United Kingdom an independent coastal state with full control of its own waters, but some fishermen say the deal isn’t going to help them much.
Britain’s long and sometimes acrimonious divorce from the European Union ended Thursday with an economic split that leaves the EU smaller and the U.K. freer but more isolated in a turbulent world.
Britain left the European bloc’s vast single market for people, goods and services at 11 p.m. London time, midnight in Brussels, completing the biggest single economic change the country has experienced since World War II. A new U.K.-EU trade deal will bring its own restrictions and red tape, but for British Brexit supporters, it means reclaiming national independence from the EU and its web of rules.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose support for Brexit helped push the country out of the EU, said it was “an amazing moment for this country.”
“We have our freedom in our hands, and it is up to us to make the most of it,” he said in a New Year’s video message.
The break comes 11 months after a political Brexit that left the two sides in the limbo of a “transition period” — like a separated couple still living together, wrangling and wondering whether they can remain friends. Now the U.K. has finally moved out.
WATCH | U.K. reaches post-Brexit trade deal with EU:
The U.K. has reached a provisional trade deal with the EU more than four years after the Brexit vote. The agreement is expected to provide stability as the divorce becomes final on Jan. 1. 2:08
It was a day some had been longing for and others had been dreading since Britain voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU, but it turned out to be something of an anticlimax.
U.K. lockdown measures to curb the coronavirus curtailed mass gatherings to celebrate or mourn the moment, though Parliament’s huge Big Ben bell sounded 11 times on the hour as it prepared to ring in the new year at midnight.
A free trade agreement sealed on Christmas Eve after months of tense negotiations ensures that Britain and the 27-nation EU can continue to buy and sell goods without tariffs or quotas. That should help protect the 660 billion pounds ($ 1.15 trillion Cdn) in annual trade between the two sides, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on it.
But companies face sheaves of new costs and paperwork, including customs declarations and border checks. Traders are struggling to digest the new rules imposed by a 1,200-page trade deal that was agreed to just a week before the split.
The English Channel port of Dover and the Eurotunnel passenger and freight route braced for delays as the new measures were introduced, though the coronavirus pandemic and a holiday weekend meant cross-Channel traffic was light, with only a trickle of trucks arriving at French border posts in Calais as 2020 ended. The vital supply route was snarled for days after France closed its border to U.K. truckers for 48 hours last week in response to a fast-spreading variant of the virus identified in England.
The British government insisted that “the border systems and infrastructure we need are in place, and we are ready for the U.K.’s new start.”
But freight companies were holding their breath. Youngs Transportation in the U.K. suspended services to the EU until Jan. 11 “to let things settle.”
“We figure it gives the country a week or so to get used to all of these new systems in and out, and we can have a look and hopefully resolve any issues in advance of actually sending our trucks,” said the company’s director, Rob Hollyman.
The services sector, which makes up 80 per cent of Britain’s economy, does not even know what the rules will be for business with the EU in 2021 — many of the details have yet to be hammered out. Months and years of further discussion and argument over everything from fair competition to fish quotas lie ahead as Britain and the EU settle into their new relationship as friends, neighbors and rivals.
Hundreds of millions of individuals in Britain and the bloc also face changes to their daily lives. Britons and EU citizens have lost the automatic right to live and work in the other’s territory. From now on, they will have to follow immigration rules and obtain work visas. Tourists will not need visas for short trips, but new headaches — from travel insurance to pet paperwork — still loom for Britons visiting the continent.
Mixed reactions to Brexit
For some in Britain, including the prime minister, it’s a moment of pride and a chance for the U.K. to set new diplomatic and economic priorities. Johnson said the U.K. was now “free to do trade deals around the world, and free to turbocharge our ambition to be a science superpower.”
Conservative lawmaker Bill Cash, who has campaigned for Brexit for decades, said it was a “victory for democracy and sovereignty.”
That’s not a view widely shared across the Channel. In the French president’s traditional New Year’s address, Emmanuel Macron expressed regret.
“The United Kingdom remains our neighbour but also our friend and ally,” he said. “This choice of leaving Europe, this Brexit, was the child of European malaise and lots of lies and false promises.”
The divorce could also have major constitutional repercussions for the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member Ireland, remains more closely tied to the bloc’s economy under the divorce terms, a status that could pull it away from the rest of the U.K.
In Scotland, which voted strongly in 2016 to remain, Brexit has bolstered support for separation from the U.K. The country’s pro-independence First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Scotland will be back soon, Europe. Keep the light on.”
Many in Britain felt apprehension about a leap into the unknown that is taking place during a pandemic that has upended life around the world.
“I feel very sad that we’re leaving,” said Jen Pearcy-Edwards, a filmmaker in London. “I think that COVID has overshadowed everything that is going on. But I think the other thing that has happened is that people feel a bigger sense of community, and I think that makes it even sadder that we’re breaking up our community a bit, by leaving our neighbours in Europe.
“I’m hopeful that we find other ways to rebuild ties,” she said.
Negotiators from the European Union and Britain worked through the night and right into Christmas Eve to put the finishing touches on a trade deal that should avert a chaotic economic break between the two sides on New Year’s Day.
After resolving the remaining fair-competition and almost all fisheries issues on Wednesday, negotiators combed through hundreds of pages of legal text that should become the blueprint for a post-Brexit relationship.
As during much of the nine-month negotiations, the issue of EU fleets in British waters proved the most intractable and divisive, with negotiators still haggling over quotas for some individual species as dawn came.
Sources on both sides said the long and difficult negotiations were on the cusp of being wrapped up as negotiators, holed up at EU headquarters in Brussels with a stack of pizzas, worked to deliver the text to their leaders on Thursday.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said there appeared to be “some sort of last-minute hitch” over fish, but that it was not surprising. He said he expected announcements of a deal from London and Brussels “later on today.”
Everyone awaited early morning appearances by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to announce the deal. The agreement then goes to the 27 EU nations seeking unanimous approval, as well as the blessing of the EU and British parliaments.
Despite the breakthrough, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain uncertain. But it leaves the mutually dependent but often fractious U.K.-EU relationship on a much more solid footing than a disruptive no-deal split.
Johnson will now claim to have delivered on the promise that won him a resounding election victory a year ago: “Get Brexit Done.”
Even with a deal, trade between Britain and the EU will face customs checks and some other barriers on Jan. 1, when the U.K. leaves the bloc’s single market and customs union. A trade deal would avert the imposition of tariffs and duties that could cost both sides billions in trade and hundreds of thousands of jobs. Britain withdrew from the EU on Jan. 31, and an economic transition period expires on Dec. 31.
Johnson has always insisted the U.K. will “prosper mightily” even if no deal is reached and the U.K. has to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms from Jan. 1.
But his government has acknowledged that a chaotic exit is likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods. Tariffs will be applied to many U.K. exports, including 10% on cars and more than 40% on lamb, battering the U.K. economy as it struggles to rebound from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the past few days, Johnson and von der Leyen have been drawn more and more into the talks, speaking by phone in a bid to unblock negotiations that have dragged on for months, hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and by the two sides’ opposing views of what Brexit entails.
Rumours of a pre-Christmas trade deal surfaced in recent days based on progress on the main outstanding issues: fair competition, resolution of future disputes and fishing.
The EU has long feared that Britain would undercut the bloc’s social, environmental and state aid rules to be able to gain an unfair edge with its exports to the EU. Britain has said that having to meet EU rules would undercut its sovereignty.
Compromise was finally reached on those “level playing field” issues, leaving the economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fish came to be the final sticking point. Maritime EU nations are seeking to retain access to U.K. waters where they have long fished, but Britain has been insisting it must exercise control as an “independent coastal state.”
A huge gap between the two sides on fishing was gradually narrowed until it appeared, at last, bridgeable.
Johnson’s large Conservative majority in Parliament should ensure that the Brexit trade agreement passes, but any compromises will be criticized by hard-line Brexit supporters in his party. The party’s euroskeptic European Research Group said it would carefully scrutinize any deal “to ensure that its provisions genuinely protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom after we exit the transition period at the end of this year.”
The European Parliament has warned it’s now too late for it to approve the deal before Jan. 1, but an agreement could provisionally be put in place and approved by EU legislators in January.
Businesses on both sides are clamouring for a deal that would save tens of billions in costs.
While both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, most economists think Britain would take a greater hit, because it is smaller and more reliant on trade with the EU than the other way around.
As if the Brexit trade negotiations were not tortuous enough, the coronavirus added a twist at a crucial stage on Thursday when top-level talks had to be suspended because an EU negotiator tested positive for COVID-19.
It added uncertainty to the negotiations as a deadline looms ever closer and both sides are still divided on three key issues.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that together with his U.K. counterpart, David Frost, “we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period.” Talks among lower-ranking officials will continue in the meantime.
Any long suspension of talks will make it tougher for the negotiators to clinch a deal ahead of Jan. 1, when the existing trade agreements between the EU and Britain expire.
“We are discussing with them the implications for the negotiations. We have been, and will continue to, act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare of our teams,” the British government said in a statement.
The virus, which has been so brutal for people across the EU and U.K., did not spare the negotiations either. Barnier tested positive in March and Frost self-isolated that same month after developing coronavirus symptoms.
Time is running out as the EU will need about four weeks to complete the approval process of any deal that is agreed upon.
Only on Wednesday a top European Union official said that trade talks with the United Kingdom still face “substantial work” that might spill over into next week.
The U.K. left the EU on Jan. 31, but a transition period when EU rules apply to trade and other issues runs until the end of December. Both sides had hoped to get a trade deal by then to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs and businesses that could suffer if Brexit leads to a sharp end to existing trade relations.
Talks have proven exceptionally difficult, with the two sides refusing to budge on three key issues — fisheries, how to check compliance of the deal and standards the U.K. must meet to export into the EU.
WATCH | Highlights from the multi-year Brexit campaign:
After years of campaigning, infighting and elections, Brexit is now a reality in the U.K. and Europe. 7:22
The bloc accuses Britain of wanting to retain access to the EU’s lucrative markets, much like any EU country, without agreeing to follow its rules.
The EU fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards, and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep.
Britain says the EU is making unreasonable demands and is failing to treat it as an independent, sovereign state.
If there is no deal, businesses on both sides of the English Channel will face tariffs and other barriers to trade starting on Jan. 1. That would hurt economies on both sides, with the impact falling most heavily on the U.K., whose economy is already reeling under the coronavirus pandemic.
The chief negotiators of the United Kingdom and the European Union will meet on Friday for intensive negotiations on a last-minute trade deal that would stave off a tumultuous finale to the five-year Brexit crisis.
The United Kingdom left the EU in January but the two sides are trying to clinch a deal that would govern nearly a trillion dollars in annual trade before informal membership — known as the transition period — ends on Dec. 31.
After threats from Britain that it would undercut the 2020 divorce treaty, and Johnson briefly broke off trade talks on Oct. 16, the EU said it was ready to talk about draft legal texts of a deal.
“It’s very important to be back at the table,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told Reuters on arrival in London on Thursday. “We have a huge common responsibility.”
“Every day counts,” said Barnier, who is due to meet Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost.
After some progress on competition guarantees including state aid rules, the hardest issue remains fish: Johnson has insisted on taking back control over its waters while the EU wants access to the fish fishing waters.
Asked if there would be a deal, junior finance minister Stephen Barclay said: “I hope so.”
“But that deal needs to reflect that fact that we’re leaving the EU, we will regain control of our fisheries,” he told Sky.
Fishing the main point of contention
At a briefing with diplomats in Brussels on Wednesday, Barnier said he was only worried about fish, one person who participated in the closed-door meeting said.
“Fish is now the thing to tackle. The other elements seem doable, more or less,” the diplomat said.
While fishing alone contributed just 0.03 per cent of British economic output in 2019, it is an emotive subject as many Brexit supporters see it as a symbol of the regained sovereignty that leaving the EU should bring. Combined with fish and shellfish processing, then the sector makes up 0.1 per cent of the country’s GDP.
For French fishermen, British waters are crucial and being locked out would cause trouble for French President Emmanuel Macron.
The United Kingdom first sought membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1961, but Charles de Gaulle vetoed Britain’s accession in 1961 and 1967, accusing the British of “deep-seated hostility” to the European project.
It eventually joined in 1973, but voted to leave the EU by 52 to 48 per cent on June 23, 2016.
Britain and Japan formally signed a trade agreement on Friday, marking the country’s first big post-Brexit deal on trade, as it continues to struggle to agree on a deal with its closest trading partners in the EU.
A long-awaited report on Russian influence in British politics criticized the British government for neglecting to investigate whether Russia interfered in the 2016 Brexit referendum, describing its utter lack of curiosity about the threats to democracy as being a major failure at the heart of power.
The parliamentary report’s authors accused the British government of “actively avoiding” looking into evidence of the Russian threat to the EU referendum. The authors found this particularly unforgivable given the evidence that emerged of Russian interference in the U.S. elections in 2016 and in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
“There has been no assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum, and this goes back to nobody wanting to touch the issue with a 10-foot pole,” committee member Stewart Hosie said, demanding that such a study be done and the public informed.
While the report from the parliament’s intelligence and security committee said it would be “difficult — if not impossible — to prove” allegations that Russia sought to influence the referendum, it was clear that the government “was slow to recognize the existence of the threat.”
Committee members concluded that the goal of a resurgent Russia in influencing the vote would be to amplify existing divisions and thus possibly destabilize Western political systems.
In a 20-page response, officials denied the government had “badly underestimated” the Russian threat and rejected the call for an assessment of alleged Russian meddling during the Brexit referendum.
“We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum,” the statement said.
The report says Russia sees Britain as one of its top intelligence targets in the West. It said Russian influence in the U.K. is the “new normal,” and successive governments have welcomed Russian oligarchs with open arms.
Russia denies meddling
Russians with “very close links” to President Vladimir Putin were “well integrated into the U.K. business, political and social scene — in ‘Londongrad’ in particular,” the report said.
Speaking before the report was released, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Russia “never interfered in electoral processes,”not in the United States, not in Britain, not in any other country.”
“We don’t do that ourselves and we don’t tolerate when other countries try to interfere with our political affairs,” Peskov said.
Authors cite delay in making report public
The report’s authors said they were subjected to an unprecedented delay in making the document public, with officials holding off its release for more than six months. Critics claimed that was meant to shield Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party from embarrassment.
The committee did not offer a theory as to why the government delayed the report but did say the government’s explanations for delaying the report were not true.
The report was originally submitted to Johnson on Oct. 17. The government initially said it couldn’t be published until it was reviewed for national security issues, which postponed its release until after the Dec. 12 general election.
Further holdups were caused by delays in appointing new members to the intelligence and security committee.
Finally, Johnson named five Conservative lawmakers to the nine-person panel in hopes his hand-picked candidate would be chosen as the chair and block the report. The gambit failed when a renegade Conservative was chosen to head the committee with backing from opposition parties.
The opposition Labour Party has accused the government of failing to publish the report because it would lead to further questions about links between Russia and the pro-Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum on European Union membership, which Johnson helped lead.
Another parliamentary panel — the digital, culture, media and sport committee — previously published the results of its own inquiry into disinformation and “fake news,” which called on election regulators and law enforcement to investigate reports that a British businessman with links to Russia donated 8.4 million pounds (approximately $ 14.3 million Cdn) to the Brexit campaign. The National Crime Agency said in September that it found no evidence of criminal offences related to the donation.
The intelligence committee report covered the full range of the Russian threat to the U.K., including election interference, espionage and targeted assassinations, such as the attempt to kill former spy Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury two years ago.
The report urged British authorities to beef up their defences, saying the “clearest requirement for immediate action” was for new legislation to give tools to the British intelligence community faced with a “very capable” adversary and to battle espionage, illegal financial dealings of Russian elite in Britain and their “enablers.”
It called for better co-ordination with Britain’s Western allies and said Britain should be ready to lead international action and should work to develop new rules on “offensive cyber” operations.
It faulted unspecified social media companies for “failing to play their part” and said the British government should set up rules to “ensure that they take covert hostile state use of their platforms seriously” and “name and shame” those that fail to act.
The report’s release comes only days after Britain, the United States and Canada accused hackers linked to Russian intelligence agencies of trying to steal information from researchers working on a potential coronavirus vaccine.
With little fuss and not much fanfare, Britain left the European Union on Friday after 47 years of membership, taking a leap into the unknown in a historic blow to the bloc.
The U.K.’s departure became official at 11 p.m. local time — midnight in Brussels — where the EU is headquartered.
Thousands of enthusiastic Brexit supporters gathered outside Britain’s Parliament cheered as the hour struck. They had been hoping for this moment since Britain’s 52-48 per cent vote in June 2016 to walk away from the club it had joined in 1973.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Britain’s departure “a moment of real national renewal and change.”
But many Britons mourned the loss of their EU identity, and some marked the passing with tearful vigils. There was also sadness in Brussels as British flags were quietly removed from the bloc’s many buildings.
Whether Brexit makes Britain a proud nation that has reclaimed its sovereignty, or a diminished presence in Europe and the world, will be debated for years to come.
While Britain’s exit is a historic moment, it only marks the end of the first stage of the Brexit saga. When Britons wake up on Saturday, they will notice very little change.
The U.K. and the EU have given themselves an 11-month “transition period” — in which the U.K. will continue to follow the bloc’s rules — to strike new agreements on trade, security and a host of other areas.
‘Historic alarm signal’
The now 27-member EU will have to bounce back from one of its biggest setbacks in its 62-year history to confront an ever more complicated world as its former member becomes a competitor, just across the English Channel.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Brexit a “historic alarm signal” that should force the EU to improve itself.
“It’s a sad day, let’s not hide it,” he said in a televised address. “But it is a day that must also lead us to do things differently.”
Watch: Countdown to Brexit
As London’s Big Ben strikes 11 p.m., Britain officially leaves the European Union. 1:23
He insisted that European citizens need a united Europe “more than ever,” to defend their interests in the face of China and the United States, to cope with climate change and migration and technological upheaval.
In the many EU buildings of Brussels on Friday, British flags were quietly lowered, folded and taken away. This is the first time a country has left the EU, and many in the bloc rued the day. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lamented that “as the sun rises tomorrow a new chapter for our union of 27 will start.”
But she warned Brexit day would mark a major loss for the U.K. and said the island nation was heading for a lonelier existence.
“Strength does not lie in splendid isolation, but in our unique union,” she said.
‘Beginning of a new era’
Johnson insisted post-Brexit Britain would be “simultaneously a great European power and truly global in our range and ambitions.”
“We want this to be the beginning of a new era of friendly cooperation between the EU and an energetic Britain,” Johnson said in a pre-recorded address to the country broadcast an hour before Britain’s exit.
In a break with usual practice, independent media outlets were not allowed to film Johnson’s speech, which the government recorded Thursday at 10 Downing St.
Tonight we have left the EU – an extraordinary turning point in the life of this country. Let us come together now to make the most of all the opportunities Brexit will bring – and let’s unleash the potential of the whole UK. 🇬🇧
Johnson won an election victory in December with a dual promise to “get Brexit done” and deliver improved jobs, infrastructure and services for Britain’s most deprived areas, where support for leaving the EU is strongest. On Friday, he symbolically held a Cabinet meeting in the pro-Brexit town of Sunderland in northeast England, rather than in London.
Johnson is a Brexit enthusiast, but he knows many Britons aren’t, and his Conservative government aimed to mark the moment with quiet dignity. Red, white and blue lights illuminated government buildings and a countdown clock projected onto the prime minister’s Downing Street residence.
There was no such restraint in nearby Parliament Square, where arch-Brexiteer Nigel Farage gathered a crowd of several thousand, who belted out the patriotic song “Land of Hope and Glory” as they awaited a moment that even Farage sometimes doubted would ever come.
Londoner Donna Jones said she had come to “be part of history.”
“It doesn’t mean we’re anti-Europe, it just means we want to be self-sufficient in a certain way,” she said.
But Britons who cherished their membership in the bloc — and the freedom it bought to live anywhere across of 28 countries — were mourning.
“Many of us want to just mark our sadness in public,” said Ann Jones, who joined dozens of other Remainers on a march to the EU’s mission in London.
“And we don’t want trouble, we just want to say, well you know, we didn’t want this.”
Far from over
Britain’s journey to Brexit has been long, rocky — and far from over.
The U.K. was never a wholehearted EU member, but actually leaving the bloc was long considered a fringe idea. It gradually gained strength within the Conservative Party, which has a wing of fierce “euroskeptics” — opponents of EU membership. Former prime minister David Cameron eventually agreed to hold a referendum, saying he wanted to settle the issue once and for all.
It hasn’t worked out that way. Since the 2016 vote, the U.K. has held fractious negotiations with the EU that finally, late last year, secured a deal on divorce terms. But Britain is leaving the bloc arguably as divided as it was on referendum day.
Watch: The U.K. officially leaves the EU | Power & Politics
By and large, Britain’s big cities voted to stay in the EU, while small towns voted to leave. England and Wales backed Brexit, while Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain.
Candlelit vigils were held in several Scottish cities, government buildings in Edinburgh were lit up in the EU’s blue and yellow colors, and the bloc’s flag continued to fly outside the Scottish Parliament.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Brexit “will be a moment of profound sadness for many of us across the U.K.”
“And here in Scotland, given that it is happening against the will of the vast majority of us, that sadness will be tinged with anger,” she said in a speech in Edinburgh.
Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party government is demanding the right to hold a referendum on independence from the U.K., something Johnson refuses to grant.
London, which is home to more than 1 million EU citizens, also voted by a wide margin to stay in the bloc.
Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “heartbroken” about Brexit. But he insisted London would remain that welcomed all, regardless of “the colour of your skin, the colour of your flag, the colour of your passport.”
Watch: Highlights from the multi-year Brexit campaign
After years of campaigning, infighting and elections, Brexit is now a reality in the U.K. and Europe. 7:22
Negotiations between Britain and the EU on their new relationship are due to start in earnest in March, and the early signs are not encouraging. The EU says Britain can’t have full access to the EU’s single market unless it follows the bloc’s rules, but Britain insists it will not agree to follow an EU rule book in return for unfettered trade.
With Johnson adamant he won’t extend the transition period beyond Dec. 31, months of uncertainty and acrimony lie ahead.
In the English port of Dover, just 32 kilometers across the Channel from France, retiree Philip Barry said he was confident it would all be worth it.
“My expectation is that there may be a little bump or two in the road but in the end it will even out,” he said. “Somebody once said: short-term pain but long-term gain.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is heading to northern England on Saturday to meet newly elected Conservative Party legislators in the working class heartland that turned its back on the opposition Labour Party in this week’s election and helped give him an 80-seat majority.
In a victory speech outside 10 Downing Street on Friday, Johnson called for an end to the acrimony that has festered throughout the country since the divisive 2016 Brexit referendum, and urged Britain to “let the healing begin.”
Johnson’s campaign mantra to “get Brexit done” and widespread unease with the leadership style and socialist policies of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn combined to give the ruling Conservatives 365 seats in the House of Commons, its best performance since party icon Margaret Thatcher’s last victory in 1987. Labour slumped to 203 seats, its worst showing since 1935.
While Johnson was on a victory lap Saturday, Corbyn — who has pledged to stand down early next year — was under fire from within his own party.
Former legislator Helen Goodman, one of many Labour legislators to lose their seat in northern England, told BBC radio that “the biggest factor was obviously the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader.”
Armed with his hefty new majority, Johnson is set to start the process next week of pushing Brexit legislation through Parliament to ensure Britain leaves the EU by the Jan. 31 deadline. Once he’s passed that hurdle — breaking three years of parliamentary deadlock — he has to seal a trade deal with the bloc by the end of 2020.
Concern over immigration
Johnson owes his success, in part, to traditionally Labour-voting working class constituencies in northern England that backed the Conservatives because of the party’s promise to deliver Brexit. Traditional Labour voters in the north and central parts of England deserted the party in droves. During the 2016 referendum, many of those communities voted to leave the EU because of concerns that immigrants were taking their jobs and perceived neglect by the central government in London.
Early in the campaign, pundits said the election would turn on these voters, who were dubbed the “Workington man” after the one-time steel-making community in northwestern England. The Conservatives won Workington on Thursday by more than 4,000 votes. The constituency had supported Labour candidates since 1918, with only one short interruption in the 1970s.
“I think that people have lost hope in Labour,” said Nicki Lawal, 24, who lives in London’s Brixton neighbourhood.
PM won by leaning left and right
Mathew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent, said Johnson matched a bit of leaning to the left on the economy with a similar lean to the right on Brexit, migration and crime.
Watch | What Boris Johnson’s win means for the U.K. and its allies:
Boris Johnson’s landslide election victory will push Brexit forward, which will have ripple effects on the increasingly fractured United Kingdom and for Britain’s allies. 6:55
Johnson “appears to have grasped one of the new unwritten laws in politics: It is easier for the right to move left on economics than it is for the left to move right on identity and culture,” he wrote on his blog.
The question now is whether the Conservatives can address the economic and social concerns of these voters and hold on to their support in future elections.
Conversely, some traditionally Conservative-supporting communities in southeastern England flipped to Labour as the pro-EU sentiments of middle class voters outweighed other issues.
Scotland the next flashpoint
Johnson’s election win comes after a 3½-year political deadlock over Brexit, that has effectively paralyzed business in the U.K. Parliament. Johnson is asking the British people to put anger behind them. But with about half of Britain wanting to remain in the European Union, and nationalist sentiment rising in Scotland and Ireland, unity will not be easy.
The next flashpoint for U.K. politics may be Scotland, where the Scottish National Party won 48 of the 59 seats that were up for grabs on Thursday.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon delivered the landslide victory with a campaign focused on demands for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Johnson has flatly rebuffed the idea of another vote, saying Scotland already rejected independence in 2014.
Sturgeon argues that the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU against the wishes of the Scottish people has materially changed the landscape. Some 62 per cent of Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU during the 2016 referendum on membership.
Scottish leader drawing up transfer of power plan
“It is the right of the people of Scotland. And you, as the leader of a defeated party in Scotland, have no right to stand in the way,” she said. She plans to publish a detailed case next week for a transfer of power from London that would clear the way for a second Scottish independence vote. Scots voted in 2014 to stay in the UK.
However, Johnson told Sturgeon by phone on Friday he opposed another referendum, prompting Sturgeon to say her political mandate must be respected, “just as he expects his mandate to be respected.”
In Northern Ireland, supporters of a united Ireland won more seats than those in the province who want to remain part of the United Kingdom for the first time since the 1921 partition which divided the British north from the Irish Republic in the south.
Buying more time with EU
Several hundred noisy protesters marched through central London on Friday evening to protest against the election result, disrupting traffic and chanting “Boris Johnson: Not My Prime Minister” and “Boris, Boris, Boris: Out, Out, Out.”
Johnson’s sweeping success will give him room to manoeuvre on such issues, particularly involving the fraught details of Brexit. Jim O’Neill, chair of the Chatham House think-tank , said the size of the Conservative Party victory gives it a clear mandate to execute the first stage of departing the EU by passing the withdrawal bill.
It also allows the government to “explore its future trade relationship with the EU with more time” and extends the transition period, he said. “Even more importantly, in principle, this majority gives the prime minister the leeway to be bold and reveal his true desires for both domestic and global Britain.”
‘Impossible’ for PM to meet promise of EU talks
After Jan. 31, Britain will enter a transition period when it will negotiate a new relationship with the remaining 27 EU states. The outcome of those talks will shape the future of its $ 3.5-trillion economy.
The transition period can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend it beyond the end of 2020.
It will be “absolutely impossible” to negotiate terms of an exit in only one year, said Scotland’s Brexit Secretary Michael Russell. He told CBC News on Saturday that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Europe and Canada took seven years to hammer out.
Russell said holding a referendum on Scottish independence is a “sensible step forward” because Brexit will be financially damaging.
Watch | Michael Russell advocates for a Scottish referendum on independence:
Michael Russell, Scotland’s Brexit secretary, says it’s imperative that Scotland hold a referendum on independence 0:40
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said many within the EU were relieved that Britain would now have a Parliament with a clear majority, highlighting the frustration that European leaders have felt during three years of political logjam in London.
But she said it would be “very complicated” to complete the talks on a new relationship by December 2020.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned Britain on Friday that the more it chose to deregulate its economy after Brexit, the more it would lose access to the EU’s single market.
U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Johnson and said a U.S. trade deal could be more lucrative than any with the EU, the world’s biggest trading bloc. “Celebrate Boris!” Trump said on Twitter.
Boris Johnson has broken Britain’s deadlock over leaving the European Union with a dramatic election win but the victory could lead to new and potentially damaging confrontations with both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Johnson, with his trademark floppy white hair and a reputation for making off-colour remarks, was dismissed by opponents — including many in his own party — as untrustworthy and something of a buffoon. But as the results began trickling in early Friday morning, it was clear his victory had dramatically redrawn the U.K.’s electoral map.
“What happens with elections is if you win, all the sins get washed away. He is at the pinnacle of his power,” said conservative commentator Craig Oliver, who served as communications director for former Conservative prime minister’s David Cameron.
The Conservatives are on track to take at least 364 seats, giving Johnson’s party a healthy majority and handing the Labour Party its worst defeat in more than a generation.
“Just utterly devastating,” tweeted well-known Labour commentator Owen Jones, “Brexit just smashed us. Keeping together an electoral coalition of “Remainers” and “Leavers” as the country bitterly divided just became impossible.”
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke only briefly after being proclaimed the winner in his riding of Islington North.
In his speech, Corbyn said while he would be stepping down as leader, it might not happen right away. Corbyn suggested he planned to stick around through what could amount to a long a transition period.
Labour loses big in longtime strongholds
The Conservatives made deep inroads into traditionally Labour seats, especially in northern England, as the vote appeared to polarize over Brexit.
“I want to thank Boris,” said winning Conservative candidate Ian Levy, whose surprise win in Blyth Valley early in the evening signalled the kind of night it would be for Labour.
No Tory had been elected there in almost 80 years.
Nearby in Sedgefield, the seat of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair swung Conservative in a stunning upset. And in Bassetlaw, a previously safe Labour seat near Sheffield, the Labour vote utterly collapsed.
“Brexit had been this dividing issue since the referendum was called and it seemed that [Brexit] cut across the traditional Labour-Conservative, left-right divide,” said Tim Durrant, associate director of the Institute for Government in London.
“People voted in terms of the party’s Brexit policy, as opposed to party loyalty.”
Scotland ‘flatly’ rejects Johnson’s plan, SNP leader says
But just as vast swaths of rural England turned Conservative blue, Scotland was painted with the yellow colour of the Scottish National Party.
The SNP is on track to win to win an unprecedented 48 of Scotland’s 59 seats — a 13-seat increase. The major gains position Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as a major voice of opposition as Johnson moves forward with plans to break away from Europe.
Scotland strongly backed the bid to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum.
“Boris Johnson’s argument to Scotland has been flatly and completely rejected,” Sturgeon told the BBC in the early hours of Friday morning.
“There is no doubt that I have a mandate to offer people that choice.”
Johnson is on the record as saying he will not agree to another referendum so soon after the last vote in 2014, which sets up an epic confrontation between two leaders with large majorities behind them.
The 2014 referendum on Scottish independence saw 55 per cent of voters cast their ballots to stay in the U.K. That vote was sanctioned by Westminster, whereas a future unsanctioned vote would be legally dubious.
But Johnson, who will face major decisions and negotiations around Brexit even after securing his majority, will be in a difficult position politically if Sturgeon moves toward holding another referendum.
‘Northern Ireland is the one to watch’
The other major upset of the night came in Northern Ireland, where parties that favour strong ties with the rest of Britain were overtaken by those with more nationalist leanings.
“Northern Ireland is the one to watch,” said Durrant, noting that the election of 11 nationalist MPs there marks the first time ever that so-called unionist parties have been in the minority there.
“Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and there’s been a lot of disappointment in Northern Ireland about the way the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) supported the Conservative government.”
If Scotland votes for a referendum, Durrant said it will no doubt intensify debate in Northern Ireland about whether its future lies inside or outside of the U.K.
‘We don’t really know him fully,’ analyst says
Johnson — a former journalist who has been in or around politics virtually his entire life — has long faced criticism for adopting and then shedding political positions with little apparent intellectual discomfort.
His hard opposition to Europe during the Brexit campaign surprised many Conservatives, as did his intense push over the last few months to take Britain out of the EU without a deal.
Durrant said with a comfortable majority behind him and the need to appeal to all those first time Conservative voters, Johnson’s thinking may yet evolve again.
“The thing with Boris Johnson is that we don’t really know him fully,” he told CBC News in an interview.
“He was London mayor for a long time and [London] is socially liberal and anti-Brexit. And he took a different tone as mayor to some of his stances while as a conservative backbencher in Theresa May’s government and now PM.”
In the immediate future, Johnson is expected to assemble his MPs and to have a modest cabinet shuffle as early as Monday. Brexit legislation is expected to go for a vote before the end of January.
While most of London remained a Labour stronghold, Johnson’s win — and the promise of movement on Brexit — was taken as positive in the financial district, with the pound trading higher.
There was no such rejoicing, though, from Labour backers and anti-Brexit campaigners. The Labour supporting Daily Mirror put a big photo of Johnson on the front page with the caption: “The Nightmare before Christmas.”
For conservatives, however, a big majority and clear path ahead for Brexit is nothing short of a dream that only a few months ago seemed unattainable.