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U.K. election landslide prompts Boris Johnson to tout an "irrefutable" Brexit mandate

Boris Johnson's U.K. election victory
Boris Johnson's election victory puts an end in sight for Brexit 02:34

London — The British people have spoken, again. Three years ago they said they wanted to leave the European Union, and with this week's tsunami election win for Boris Johnson's Conservative party, they've made it clear they still want out. Or at the very least they want to stop hearing about it.

Johnson's Conservative party capitalized on the voting public's frustration with gridlock in Parliament. They campaigned ahead of Thursday's vote on a painfully simple promise; to end the dithering and "get Brexit done."  It worked better than even Mr. Johnson might have predicted.

The Conservatives, or Tories, swept up more seats in the House of Commons than they've had since Margaret Thatcher led the party in the 1980s. Johnson crowed on Friday morning that winning about 360 of the 650 available seats, "means that getting Brexit done is now the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people."

It was a devastating blow for his chief rival, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. He campaigned on a platform that tried to minimize the entire Brexit issue — on which his own stance has never been completely clear — and pretend the election was about much more. It was a doomed strategy.

Britain's general election 2019
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn waits for the General Election results at a counting center in Islington, London, during Britain's general election early on December 13, 2019. Hannah Mckay/REUTERS

As Corbyn's party ally John McDonnell conceded on Friday morning, "Brexit has dominated, it has dominated everything by the looks of it… We thought other issues could cut through and there would be a wider debate. From this evidence there clearly wasn't."

Brexit happens now, right?

After a series of delays forced by indecision and inter-party back-stabbing in Parliament, the current deadline set for Brexit to happen is January 31.

Johnson has been adamant that by that date the four countries that make up the United Kingdom — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — will cease to be members of the 28-nation European Union that Britain helped establish about five decades ago.

Will critical U.K. election finally decide Brexit battle? 01:34

With or without a divorce deal agreed with Europe to replace half a century's worth of intricate trade, customs and border policies, Johnson says he'll see the people's will done.

"We will get Brexit done on time by the 31st of January, no ifs, no buts, no maybes; leaving the European Union as one United Kingdom, taking back control of our laws, borders, money, our trade, immigration system, delivering on the democratic mandate of the people," he said.

He has a draft divorce agreement with the EU in his back pocket. The previous Parliament rejected that draft multiple times, but the one voted into power on Thursday is likely to approve it.

"Massive" new trade deals

Johnson has promised his country a new era. He's vowed to send British representatives out into the world, unfettered by the shackles of the EU economic bloc and its collective rules and regulations, to strike new, unilateral trade deals.

President Donald Trump was quick to throw Johnson a bone.

In a tweet sent around 1 a.m. in Washington, Mr. Trump congratulated Johnson and said, "Britain and the United States will now be free to strike a massive new Trade Deal after BREXIT. This deal has the potential to be far bigger and more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U. Celebrate Boris!"

For decades Britain has negotiated trade with the U.S. and other countries as part of the much larger EU trade bloc. While membership in that alliance forces the U.K., and the other 27 EU nations, to abide by tight European restrictions on everything from genetically modified crops to pharmaceuticals, it also gives the smaller U.K. economy a lot more bargaining power.

Collectively the EU is an economic force to be reckoned with. Depending on the measure used, it stacks up as a trading bloc with the likes of the United States and China. The United Kingdom on its own is the world's fifth largest economy — no small feat given its relatively small size, but certainly a less daunting negotiating partner than it has been as part of Team EU.

So when deal-maker Donald Trump says his government will cut a trade agreement with Britain "more lucrative than any deal that could be made with the E.U.," he may well be right. But it's not clear who the deal will be more lucrative for. Mr. Trump's job, after all, is to "keep America great," not the United Kingdom.

Nonetheless, U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson told BBC News on Friday that Mr. Trump "wants to do a free, fair and balanced deal, and he wants to get it done quickly." 

It's worth mentioning here that the U.S. is not Britain's biggest trading partner. That would be Europe, by a long shot.

EU official Charles Michel vowed Friday morning that the bloc would send a "strong message" to the next British government.

"We are ready to negotiate," EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

"One United Kingdom"

Did you notice above that Johnson promised an exit from the EU "as one United Kingdom?" Given that there are mere weeks before the Brexit deadline, he should be able to deliver on that promise. But whether the Kingdom remains United, in a very literal sense, after that is far less certain.

Apart from the Tories delivering Labour a kick to the head with Thursday's vote, another major election takeaway was the overwhelming victory of the Scottish National Party north of the border.

Unlike the English and Welsh, the Scots voted convincingly in 2016 to remain in the EU. As part of the U.K., however, their will is essentially overridden due to their small number of seats in the British Parliament.

The SNP has campaigned for years on a pledge to make Scotland an independent country, which would break up the United Kingdom. In a 2014 public referendum, before Brexit was a thing, the Scots rejected independence. But on Thursday, the SNP had a decisive victory on its home turf, taking 48 of Scotland's 59 seats in Parliament.

Britain's general election 2019
Leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon cheers with supporters at a counting center for Britain's general election in Glasgow, Scotland, December 13, 2019. RUSSELL CHEYNE/REUTERS

Leader Nicola Sturgeon said the results had given the SNP a "renewed, refreshed, strengthened mandate" to demand a new independence referendum. She said Johnson and the Conservatives had "no right" to pull Scotland out of the EU.

Johnson, she said, "must accept that I have a mandate to give Scotland a choice for an alternative future."  

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