(CN) — Relishing a landslide election victory, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday morning that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union by the end of January. Johnson called the Conservative win an “irrefutable” mandate from voters.
“With this mandate and this majority we will at last be able to do what?” he said in a speech to supporters. A chorus of voices shouted out his election slogan: “Get Brexit done!”
Johnson rode this simple and single-minded message to a whopping victory Thursday. The Tories won 365 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons, a gain of 48 parliamentarians from the 2017 elections and its best performance since 1987, the last election won by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Labour, the main opposition party, won 203 seats, a loss of 59 seats. Another anti-Brexit party, the Liberal Democrats, won only 11 seats, one fewer than 2017. The Liberal Democratic leader, Jo Swinson, even lost her seat in Scotland.
“This election means getting Brexit done is the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people,” Johnson said.
Actually, that's not so clear. Fewer than half the voters — 47% — backed the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, the two parties that favor leaving the EU.
“This is a point to which opponents of Brexit are likely to point in the weeks and months to come,” said John Curtice, a leading election expert, in an analysis for the BBC.
Regardless, Johnson will have the numbers in Parliament to push ahead with Brexit, the biggest shift in British politics since the end of World War II.
In many ways Thursday was a crowning moment for Johnson, a flamboyant mop-haired 55-year-old former journalist and former mayor of London. The son of a former British foreign intelligence agent, Johnson built a reputation by trashing the EU in newspaper columns, often basing his criticisms on half-truths and outright lies. As a correspondent in Brussels for the Daily Telegraph, a Conservative newspaper linked to the old-school Tory party establishment, he voiced the frustrations of a British elite and aristocratic class who feel that Britain’s participation in the European project undermines what is unique about England. Thatcher once called Johnson her favorite journalist.
Johnson is often compared to President Donald Trump. Both have led outrageous private lives and both are accused of being charlatans born in privilege who have ruthlessly ridden working-class anger into the highest political offices. They have both come to power courting fringe right-wing ideas while also appealing to lower-income whites on issues such as immigration and crime.
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, Johnson was one of the few Tory leaders to campaign in favor of taking the U.K. out of the EU. He continues to face allegations that he misled voters in the Brexit referendum by misusing statistics that persuaded people to vote to leave the EU. He used posters that were flat-out lies about how Turkey was joining the EU and would flood Britain with immigrants.
In this campaign, Johnson was more somber and low-key in tone, but again he was accused of twisting facts and distorting the truth when he made pledges to build new hospitals, hire thousands of new nurses and police officers and denied that his Brexit plan would result in customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
In his victory speech, Johnson reveled in his triumph.